King William the Conqueror used the concept of feudalism to reward his Norman supporters for their help in the conquest of England. The land belonging to the English was taken and given to Norman Knights and Nobles. These estates were known as Manors. Life lived under the Medieval Feudal System, or Feudalism, demanded that everyone owed allegiance to the King and their immediate superior. Everyone was expected to pay for the land by providing the following services:
- Work days - completing any chores required
- Providing trained soldiers to fight for the King and clothes and weapons for the soldiers
The Owners of Medieval Manors - Ecclesiastical Manors
Not all manors were held necessarily by lay lords rendering military service (or again, cash in lieu) to their superior. A substantial number of manors (estimated by value at 17% in England in 1086) belonged directly to the king. An even greater proportion (rather more than a quarter) were held by bishoprics and monasteries. Ecclesiastical manors tended to be larger, with a significantly greater villein area than neighbouring lay manors.
How big were the Medieval Manors? What were Fiefs?
Medieval manors varied in size but were typically small holdings of between 1200 - 1800 acres. Every noble had at least one manor; great nobles might have several manors, usually scattered throughout the country; and even the king depended on his many manors for the food supply of the court. England, during the period following the Norman Conquest, contained more than nine thousand of these manorial estates. Another name given to this land was a Fief. A fief was the land held by a vassal of a lord in return for stipulated services, chiefly military.
Medieval Manors - The Lands of the Manors
The lord's land was called his "demesne," or domain which he required to support himself and his retinue. The rest of the land of the Manors were allotted to the peasants who were his tenants. A peasant, instead of having his land in one compact mass, had it split up into a large number of small strips (usually about half an acre each) scattered over the manor, and separated, not by fences or hedges, but by banks of unploughed turf. Besides his holding of farm land each peasant had certain rights over the non-arable land of the manors - the common land. He could cut a limited amount of hay from the meadow. He could turn so many farm animals including cattle, geese and swine on the waste. He also enjoyed the privilege of taking so much wood from the forest for fuel and building purposes. A peasant's holding, which also included a house in the village, thus formed a self-sufficient unit.
Medieval Manors - Hunting on the lands of the Manors
The Feudal System right of hunting was of all privileges dearest to and most valued by the nobles. The severest and cruellest penalties were imposed on "villains" who dared to kill the smallest head of game on the lands owned by the lord.
Medieval Manors - The Manor House
The lords who occupied his manor would invariably build a Manor House for his wife and family. Manors which were not occupied by the lord were managed on his behalf by a bailiff. The Manor House was residential property, and differed from castles in that it was not built for the purpose of attack or defence. The Manor House varied in size, according to the wealth of the lord but generally consisted of a Great Hall, solar, kitchen, storerooms and servants quarters.
Medieval Manors - The names of the Medieval people who worked on the manors
The lords of the Medieval Manors exercised certain rights including Hunting and Judicial rights. The Lord of the Manor was based in the Manor House and from here he conducted the business of the manor. People who worked on the manor are described as follows:
- Vassal - A Vassal or Liege was a free man who held land ( a fief ) from a lord to whom he paid homage and swore fealty. A vassal could be a Lord of the Manor but was also directly subservient to a Noble or the King
- Bailiff - A Bailiff was a person of some importance who undertook the management of manors
- Reeve - A Reeve was a manor official appointed by the lord or elected by the peasants
- Serf - A serf was another name for a peasant or tennant. Medieval Serfs were peasants who worked his lord's land and paid him certain dues in return for the use of land, the possession (not the ownership) of which was heritable. The dues were usually in the form of labor on the lord's land. Medieval Serfs were expected to work for approximately 3 days each week on the lord's land.
- Peasant or Villein - A peasant or villein was a low status tenant who worked as an agricultural worker or laborer. A peasant or villein usually cultivated 20-40 acres of land
- Cottager: A low class peasant with a cottage, but with little or no land who generally worked as a simple laborer
- Servant: Servants were house peasants who worked in the lord's manor house, doing the cooking, cleaning, laundering, and other household chores
Medieval Manors - The Role of a Yeoman
A yeoman owned his own land and often farmed it himself. His land would be equivalent to 30 - 120 acres. A yeoman of the Middle Ages was required to be armed and trained with a bow. Wealthy yeoman would be expected to also be trained and armed with a sword, dagger and the longbow. Yeoman were therefore often employed to guard and protector the nobility.