Manorial system

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The Manorial System. A manor in English law is an estate in land to which is incident the right to hold a court termed court baron, that is to say a manorial court. The proper unit of tenure under the feudal system is the fee, on which the manor became established through the process of time. The Manor is the basic feudal unit of tenure and is historically connected with the territorial divisions of the march, county, hundred, parish and township.

The land of the Manor.

Demesne (manor itself or in wealthiest manors known as 'emparked manors', divided into deer park (or similar) and manor farm or farms), land retained "in-hand" by the lord of the manor, without subtenant. It was exploited for the owner's own profit using his manorial workforce, being chiefly, until latter centuries, those with no tenancy rights or those whose copyhold tenancies stipulated so many days per month or year to be worked on the demesne.

Other land (in the latter four categories, by grant in a form acceptable to the Crown) could be: Glebe, land not belonging to the manor reserved for the support of the parish priest (also known where the priest's home was often included as rectory). Common land, by convention open land, over which the lord, certain manorial tenants, and other parishioners held and shared rights. For example a right of estovers (taking wood) may belong to one of these groups or all of them. Freehold Copyhold Customary Freehold (between the two) Leasehold (granted for a term, usually one of years); the Reversion (also known as Reversionary Freehold Interest or Freehold Reversion) is held by its former freeholder, usually before the sale of land belonging to manors, the lord of the manor. Arable, ploughed land used to grow crops. Waste, economically unproductive land. Pasture, grassland used for grazing livestock. Meadow, grassland used for haymaking. Closes, small enclosed fields created by hedge or stone wall boundaries, used for example to house ewes with their lambs requiring close observation. Marsh Woodland, an essential fuel resource. Furze, a fuel resource used by the lower tenants. Fallow, land resting within the cycle of crop rotation agriculture. Fishpond, used to breed fish such as carp Iceni The Iceni were a Tribe or Kingdom in England who inhabited an area corresponding (almost in area) to the modern-day County of Norfolk from the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD. The tribe turned into a civitas during the Roman occupation of Britannia. Their capital was Venta Icenorum, located at modern-day Caistor St Edmund. Roman During the Roman occupation, the Roman Emperor assigned officials to transform the tribes into civitates as a way to govern them. The Iceni was one of roughly sixteen civitates in Britain. The Romans’ increasing influence eventually led to the Iceni uprising in 61 A.D. England had many Kingdoms in the early centuries of the first millennium, and a united Kingdom took many centuries more before a single King was appointed by the Barons and the Lords.


The Angles and Saxons invaded and settled in Britain in the 5th century. In 1066 England (named after the Angles) was ruled by two Anglo-Saxon Kings, Edward the Confessor, who died in January, and Harold II, who was defeated by William Duke of Normandy in October.

The manor system was a way that feudal lords organized their lands in order to produce agricultural goods and wealth. The manor had four main areas: the manor house and accompanying village, farmland, meadowland, and wasteland. The Lord of the manor lived in the castle, hall or manor house; the serfs lived in mud brick/wattle and daub dwellings that were all in the same area. The serfs' dwellings were very small and only consisted of one room. Serfs used fire to heat their homes when they weren't working in the fields. Serfs farmed and completed other jobs around the manor. Life on a manor is the medieval version of a relationship which occurs, between the landlord and peasant, in any society where a upper class depends directly on agriculture carried out by others namely the lower class.

The Arms of Robert, Lord Malet, of Eye Castle in Suffolk. He owned land in over 137 parishes, mostly In Norfolk and Suffolk.

His father, William Malet, one of William the Conqueror's main companions in the invasion of England. William Malet was considered to be half English and half Norman by birth, through his maternal line. King William gave him the responsibility of burying King Harold`s body after the Battle of Hastings.

After two decades the Normans were getting established and their Knights had become the new Lords of the two Sprowston Manors, (Sprowston/Aslake and Mounteney) these two families ruled for well over two hundred years.

Baron - Nobility of England as tenant-in-chief, holding lands directly given by the King. Feudal Land Holders - Anyone granted or given land to work by King or Lord. Carucate (carucata)- Derived from the Latin word caruca, meaning plough, this is a measure of land used in Danelaw (North and Eastern) counties in Domesday. Equivalent to a hide and represented the amount of land which could be ploughed by one plough team. ploughland - land that is ploughed for growing crops; arable land. A measure of land used in the northern and eastern counties of England after the Norman conquest, based on the area able to be ploughed in a year by a team of eight oxen.

Serfdom = Freemen ~ Villeins ~ Borders & Cottages ~ Slaves.

The usual serf (not including slaves or cottars) paid his fees and taxes in the form of seasonally appropriate labour. Usually a portion of the week was devoted to ploughing his Lord's fields held in demesne, harvesting crops, digging ditches, repairing fences, and often working in the manor house. The remainder of the serf's time he spent tending his own fields, crops and animals in order to provide for his family.

Most manorial work was segregated by gender during the regular times of the year; however, during the harvest, the whole family was expected to work the fields. A major difficulty of a serf's life was that his work for his Lord coincided with, and took precedence over, the work he had to perform on his own lands: when the Lord's crops were ready to be harvested, so were his own. On the other hand, the serf of a benign Lord could look forward to being well fed during his service; it was a Lord without foresight who did not provide a substantial meal for his serfs during the harvest and planting times. In exchange for this work on the Lord's demesne, the serfs had certain privileges and rights, including for example the right to gather deadwood - an essential source of fuel - from their lord's forests. In addition to service, a serf was required to pay certain taxes and fees. A measure of land used in the northern and eastern counties of England after the Norman conquest, based on the area able to be ploughed in a year by a team of eight oxen Land ownership in the Middle Ages was tied to the National security, and the feudal tenure was abolished in England, Ireland and Wales in 1660. The time of the great estates which had several manors had arrived and these manors were to change again with the coming of the Industrial Age.


The origins of the Freedom are lost in the mists of time, but for many generations the Freemen or Burgesses formed the governing bodies of almost all the Boroughs of the land. To be a Freeman was a prize eagerly sought by any who sought to prosper within his community, but the jealously guarded privileges gained were often matched by the onerous responsibilities of local government. The Freedom could be gained in several ways. Patrimony allowed the freedom to pass from father to son. Servitude, by an apprentice, gave the Freedom on completion of his time, to a tradesman. Redemption was a means of purchase.


Villein was a term used in the feudal era to denote a peasant (tenant farmer) who was legally tied to a Lord of the Manor. Villeins occupied the social space between a free peasant (or "freeman") and a slave. An alternative term is serf, from the Latin servus, meaning "slave". A villein could not leave the land without the landowner's consent.

"Serfs" and "Slaves"

Serfs fall between freemen and slaves. An essential feature differentiating serfs from slaves was the reference to a plot of land, which means that serfs, unlike slaves, were bound to his designated plot of land and could be transferred along with that land to a new lord. A vast majority of serfs in medieval Europe sustained their lives by cultivating a plot of land that was owned by a Lord, as a serf was more of a part of the land, rather being owned by the Lord. A serf provided his own food and clothing using his and his family’s efforts.

An essential symbol of serfdom was the lack of many individual freedom enjoyed by the freemen. One of the major freedoms that serfs were unable to enjoy was the freedom of movement: he could make no permanent moves out of his village and allotted plot of land without the permission of his Lord. In addition to the lack of freedom of movement, a serf was restricted in marriage, vocational change, and even simple property disposal; all of these activities required the permission of the Lord. There were many restrictions, but serfs also enjoyed certain freedom.

Property. Unlike the common belief that a serf had nothing to call his own, serfs were in fact allowed to accumulate personal property and wealth through the individual produce. In exceptional cases, some serfs even became wealthier than the freemen - wealthy enough to buy even his freedom. Serfs were given the freedom to choose what to grow on their land and sell the surplus. This personal property was handed down to their heirs as an inheritance. There were also measures? though rather poor - to ensure the protection of serfs from their lords: a lord could not unreasonably dispossess his serfs. A lord was actually required to protect his serfs from crime or other lords. In famine, charity to support the serfs was expected.


A landholder, holding between five and fifteen acres in a Manor, but sometimes having a similar land holding as a COTTAGER.


A person normally holding a cottage (Dwelling) and four acres or less in a Manor.

     Strip-farming and enclosure: 9th - 20th century

In the fields of our medieval manor were open spaces (fields), pieces of land (long narrow strips) for planting and growing crops, the neighbouring Mousehold Heath provided wood for building, heating and cooking. The fields being grazed by cattle are fenced. The others are open and are identifiable as separate fields only by the crops which they bear.

In 1066 there were 18 Freeman who rented the land for an agreed fee of the Lords of the Manors. Most of the strips belonged to the two local Lords, farmed for them by the peasants under their feudal obligations. However, the majority of the peasants were unfree. These unfree peasants, who were called Villeins or Serfs, had to provide a whole range of services in exchange for the land that they used. The main requirement of the serf was to supply labour service. This involved working on the demesne without pay for several days a week. As well as free labour, serfs also had to provide the oxen plough-team or any equipment that was needed. Also our Parish Church owned some of these fields and strips, it also owned land in other areas of Norfolk, by the renting this land, it provided an income to the Parish Church.

In addition to the open fields, our manor had a piece of common land where the peasants had the right to graze cattle, collect wood, cut turf.

By the 14th century this land was turned mainly into sheep farming, because of the plague the Lord of the manor found it difficult to get manpower, the wool from the sheep gave rise to the cloth production.

The other motive is the greed of Lords of the manor, who regularly attempt to enclose the common land and incorporate it in their own demesne.

Enclosure of common land causes particular unrest, not only for the loss of an ancient right but because the poorest peasants (those who lack a share in the open-field system) rely on these pastures and woods for subsistence. “Kett`s Rebellion” was initially started by this threat and his forces camped on the Heath after marching through Sprowston. Changes came to Sprowston in 1800 with the implementation of the “Enclosure Act” by the Government of the day.