- Z Razi and R.M. Smith, eds., Medieval Society and the Manor Court
(Oxford, 1996): the introductory essays by Razi and Smith, but especially 'The
origins of the English manorial court rolls as a written record: a puzzle' , and
the contribution by P.R. Hyams on 'What did Edwardian villagers understand by "law"?'.
- J. Beckerman, 'Procedural innovation and institutional change in medieval
English manorial courts', Law and History Review 10 (1992), pp. 197-252.
- E. Clark, 'Debt litigation in a late medieval English vill', in J.A.
Raftis, ed., Pathways to Medieval Peasants (Toronto, 1981), pp. 247-82.
- R.M. Smith, 'Some thoughts on "hereditary" and "proprietary"
rights in land under customary law in thirteenth and fourteenth century
England', Law and History Review 1 (1983), pp. 95-128.
- J. Beckerman, 'The forty-shilling jurisdictional limit in medieval English
personal actions' in D. Jenkins, ed., Legal History Studies (London,
1975), pp. 110-17.
- J.B. Post, 'Manorial amercements and peasant poverty', Economic History
Review 2nd ser., 28 (1975), pp.
- F.W. Maitland, Select Pleas in Manorial and other Seignorial
Courts (Selden Society, 1, 1889) [has texts and parallel translations].
- A.E. Levett, Studies in Manorial History (London, 1963) [contains
at the end extracts from the St Alban's court books].
- M.K. Dale, ed., Court Roll of Chalgrave Manor 1278-1313
(Bedfordshire Historical Record Society 26-28, 1948-50).
- J. Amphlett and S.G. Hamilton, eds, Court Rolls of the Manor of Hales
1270-1307 (Worcs Historical Society, 3 vols, 1910-33).
These texts have been selected because they contain intrinsically
interesting cases. Later this year (1997) should appear the second Selden
Society volume of select pleas in manorial courts, edited by L.R. Poos and L.
Bonfield, relating to 'family law'.
The development of written court rolls
- 12th century -- no written court rolls, but narratives or extracts in
cartularies provide information about some seignorial courts -- these cases
relate to free tenants and were presumably recorded because of the possibility
of removal of the case (by writ of tolt) to the royal courts;
- 1208-9 Winchester Pipe Rolls -- the accounts contain the purchasia
paragraph which records in considerable detail fines on the peasantry exacted in
the manorial courts;
- 1237 St Alban's court books -- books of extracts from court rolls for each
of most of the manors of the Abbey of St Alban's -- the reason for the extracts
is not entirely clear, although many relate to customs;
- 1239 Brancaster (Norfolk) -- extracts from a court roll of this manor of
Ramsey Abbey -- the reason is quite evident: the confiscation of lands involved
in illicit (unlicensed) transactions in land by the unfree peasantry;
- 1246 -- the earliest extant original court rolls; these are for English
manors of the Abbey of Bec -- sample entries were transcribed by F.W. Maitland
in Select Pleas;
- court book of Croxton Abbey, Leicestershire, in Belvoir Castle -- noted by
J.H. Round in his report on the Rutland MSS for the Historical Manuscripts
- 1260s and 1270s: the proliferation of court rolls.
Reasons for written records
- Maitland: a record of the fines exacted from the peasantry and thus a
fiscal record of lordship -- but that might be achieved through the purchasia
paragraph in manorial accounts, such as in the Winchester Pipe Rolls from 1208-9
without written court records;
- Harvey (Paul): to ensure that justice was dispensed according to custom and
previous cases -- but presumably this was achieved before written record;
- Smith and Razi -- the expansion of the royal (common law) courts for
the free tenantry forced seignorial courts onto the defensive with the
consequence of bringing their procedures into line with 'public' courts. Phase
I: 1230s -- start of manorial court records -- initial reaction to expansion of
common law courts; Phase II -- 1260s -- expansion of written manorial court
records -- political contest to maintain the loyalty of free tenants -- reform
of manorial court procedures: written records -- period of Baronial Reform
1259-67: Provisions of Westminster (1259) and Statute of Westminster (1267) to
provide protection for freeholders -- since lords could no longer coerce free
tenants to prosecute their suits in manorial courts, they had to make the courts
more attractive; Phase III -- 1270s and 1280s -- explosion of written manorial
court records -- further attractiveness of common law courts in the reign of
Edward I combined with his Quo Warranto proceedings into the operation
of franchises or liberties[Back]
made it even more imperative for lords to make seignorial courts more attractive
to freeholders rather than being complacent. Thus Smith and Razi emphasise the
importance of competition from common law courts for the suits of free tenants
in causing reforms to procedures in manorial courts, including the introduction
of written records.
Smith and Razi, but more particularly the former, further consider that
there was a constant impact of the common law particularly on land transactions,
such that the Edwardian Statutes, for example De Donis Condicionalibus
of Westminster II (1285) and Quia Emptores Terrarum of 1290, led to the
proliferation of entails (by the former statute) and changes in diplomatic (by
Some contested areas
- Poos and Bonfield, in their forthcoming volume of cases in manorial
courts, contest the impact of the common law on manorial custom; empirically,
Poos does not allow the impact; jurisprudentially, Bonfield has argued that
manorial custom was based on factual equities rather than legal principles;
against Bonfield, Hyams has argued for a unifying legal culture, whilst
Beckerman has countered Bonfield on the point of legal organisation;
- The evidence for innovations in land transactions -- peasant entails and
jointures -- is largely from the eastern parts of England, with less evidence
from other regions -- the eastern counties had a higher proportion of freemen,
so that the cross-fertilisation of common law and manorial custom is more likely
to have advanced there;
- Beckerman's evidence for procedural changes in manorial courts derives
largely, although not exclusively, from a small number of courts and there is
not yet enough evidence that these changes were more widespread -- the wider
replacement of the homage (all the suitors of the court) by select juries of
presentment in particular is at issue, although the transformation from
compurgation (oath-helpers) to proof (fact proved to juries) is not contested.
What was a liberty or franchise? A liberty or franchise basically consisted
of regalian rights which had been devolved into private hands. Such liberties
might involve some degree of immunity from royal officials -- sheriffs and
hundred bailiffs -- through the principle of non intromittas, excluding
these officials. The officials could thus only deliver writs to the franchisal
officers and receive the return of the writ. Whilst some franchises extended to
criminal jurisdiction -- for felonies (such as the liberty of the Bishop of
Ely), such higher private jurisdiction was declining by the late fourteenth
century. The principle franchises thus comprised lower matters such as the
administration of the assizes of bread and ale, battery, and the raising of the
hue and cry, with, in addition, the organisation of the view of frankpledge, the
collective system of security by which all males over twelve had to be in a
tithing for collective responsibility. These matters were, in public hands,
hundredal responsibilities, so that some of the jurisdiction of the hundred had
been passed into seignorial hands. The hundred business was technically to be
administered by the lord at the view of frankpledge courts to be held twice a
year, Hockday (second Tuesday after Easter) and Michaelmas or Martinmas, by
contrast with the lord's manorial courts which were often held every three
weeks. Where the business was still a public responsibility, the sheriff passed
through the hundreds twice a year, the sheriff's tourn. Consequently, some
franchisal courts in private hands, such as those of Glastonbury Abbey, were
described as the tourn. One effect of this dual responsibility on some estates
was to reduce the frequency (ostensibly) of manorial courts, for manorial
business only survives on the same rolls as the franchisal courts, that is twice
a year, as on manors of Glastonbury Abbey and Ramsey Abbey. These twice-yearly
records begin with the franchisal business of the tourn or view of frankpledge
followed by the business of the hallmoot or manorial court. But surely the
peasants must have had their personal actions judged more frequently than twice
baron/customary/hallmoot||View of frankpledge, leet, tourn,
of Quo Warranto|
|every three weeks theoretically -- de tribus
septimanis in tres septimanas||twice a year -- Hockday
|Land -- surrender and admission -- customary tenure||tithing -- frankpledge -- males over 12|
|'criminal' misdemeanours -- battery, hue and cry, in some
franchises felonious crimes but dying out by late 14th cent (the King's peace)|
actions:||Regulatory -- assize of bread; assize of ale --
but effectively a licensing system|
detinue; trespass; covenant; defamation (only at this level -- otherwise in
ecclesiastical courts -- manorial courts the only exception at this time to
ecclesiastical courts' control over defamation)|
jurisdictional limit on personal actions -- more particularly for debt than
trespass -- removal to royal courts -- except in case of manorial courts on
ancient demesne which retained cognisance of such cases|
over the unfree:|
chevage; leyrwite; entry fines|
of manorial officials:|
reapreeve; affeerors (taxatores or afferatores); sometimes the
Change in diplomatic
Before the 1260s, the diplomatic for transferring customary tenures or
unfree land was inchoate, but the phrase sibi et heredibus suis was
insinuated into the language of transfers. Theoretically, such a clause was an
implied manumission since only free tenures were hereditary. To obviate this
problem, it has been suggested, lords introduced a more standardised terminology
for these transfers, the surrender and admission and the surrender ad opus.
(personal action) (technically of chattels)|
||covenant, agreement (personal action)|
|debitum||debt (personal action) (technically
suit, action (e.g. placitum debiti -- plea of debt)|
communi||from the common suit|
|in misericordia||in mercy (fined) |
|plegius||pledge (surety by a person)|
|optulit se||s/he came forward|
|reddidit sursum||surrendered (of land)
(to the lord)|
the use of|
secure (a defendant)|
|respondere||to reply, answer|
concordandi||for licence to agree, compromise|
|narracio||count, pleading of the case (ME
|non prosecutus est||didn't
proceed (i.e. a non-suit)|
|essonia||essoin (legitimate excuse for non-appearance)|
|distringere||to distrain -- impound chattels|
|districtus est||s/he was distrained|
|distringitur ||s/he is to be
-- the male jurors of the court|
|vadiavit legem||waged his/her law (compurgation -- oath-helpers)|
|decennarius, capitalis plegius||tithing man
(head of a tithing)|
|secta (Curie)||suit of court|
This is the basic vocabulary, but more will be encountered along the way.
These are just some brief notes about the issues surrounding court rolls or
the way in which court rolls are or have been exploited.
- The nature the customary law: Beckerman; Smith; Hyams; Bonfield and Poos -- what
was the nature of customary law? What was its relationship to the common law?
How far were lords able to exercise a discretionary and disciplinary jurisdiction?
How far was customary law an 'alternative dispute resolution' based on 'factual
equities' or was it something more formal than that? How far were tenants able to appropriate
common law forms for their own purposes ('jointures', entails etc)?
- Demography: the primary source before the laconic introduction of parish registers from
1538 -- demographic trends from tithing pence (headpennies) -- population turnover in tithing lists
-- household and family formation -- age at marriage -- customary notions of
marriage -- marriage patterns based on age at marriage -- illegitimacy rates
(bastardy proneness) -- mortality rates from deaths of tenants (but the problematic of using heriot --
Postan/Titow, but Franklin).
- Peasant land market -- (a) family/land bond -- Chayanovian life-cycle and landholding --
peasant land market and subsistence crises; (b) population-resources model (neo-Ricardian --Postan
and Titow) -- population outstripping resources (land) -- significance of entry fines (Titow, Harvey, etc
for different perceptions).
- Gender -- life-cycle of women and their status -- occupational changes: example brewing --
life-cycle changes in female networks -- the nature of female involvement in 'crime' -- the payment
of merchet: what does it mean for female independence and resources? What, indeed, is the wider
significance of merchet (Control over persons? Control over who is accepted as a tenant? Control over
chattels? -- the merchet debate: Searle; Hyams and Brand; Faith; Scammell).
- Peasant social relations -- (a) Toronto school: communitarian before 1348 through 'solidarity' --
the reciprocity of personal pledging (sureties) across peasant categories -- decline of community
after 1348 -- OR (b)the perspective of the use of 'law' from the litigants' perspective --
conflictual: personal actions of trespass, 'public' crimes of battery, defamation (Schofield); or
(c)welfare, the aged, custody -- Elaine Clark -- individual responses using
'shared resourses' -- maintenance agreements by the elderly -- provision of
small amounts of land as welfare (Page) -- provisions for custody.
- The purpose of the manorial court? Functionalist ideas of the restoration of
harmony and social integration as the primary, communitarian response of the court.
- Lord-peasant tensions -- resistance as the 'hidden transcript' (Scott) -- refusals to work --
dilatory work (Hilton, Franklin).