The Records of the Lords of the Manor and the Manorial Courts can exist in some places for centuries, (even into the nineteenth or twentieth centuries) they are particularly useful for records of your ancestors before the Parish Records. The area governed by a manor court might not be very straightforward and could take place some distance from the Parish.
The Manor was simply the local system of government and local law enforcement system. The owner of the Manor, the Lord, was answerable to the King and preserved his system of law and order. Each person had a place in this order and it was extremely difficult to move 'place' within it. Through the centuries the great authority of the Lord of the Manor was reduced over the villeins. This was accelerated as early as the 14th Century by the changes brought about by the black death.
The villeins paid a tax to the Lord when they inherited their land, and also had to consult the Lord when marrying their daughters. A heriot or fine was payable on the death of the villein. The Villeins, were unfree tenants who could graze cattle on common land and could also collect hay and firewood. Below the villeins were Serfs and Cottars, landless slaves who could not rise to villeins.
Two types of Courts (and thus Court Records)
The Court Leet, dealt with minor offences (about sixty of them), like cattle straying or hedges not being maintained.
The Court Baron (covered about forty more serious offences) dealt with the legal operation of the Manor, especially land transfers and surrenders. They ensured the Lords and tenants rights to the common land and had to be attended compulsorily. Serious offences from this Court could be referred to the assizes.
Steward - His job was to record events in the Manor, he held the Court and ensured land was conveyanced legally.
Bailiff - an overseer appointed by the Steward to announce Court meetings.
Reeve - Elected by the villeins he arranged the duties of the tenants.
Haywood - His job was to maintain fences and hedges, impound stray cattle and acted as the Lords agent for sale of corn etc.,
Constable - He kept the peace in the manor, the law officer appointed for a year and was expected to summon the jurors.
1. The Manorial Documents Register, The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU. Tel: +44 (0) 20 8876 3444
2. County Record Offices. This can be a real gold mine (including Ecclesiastical Record Offices).
3. Find out which family were Lords of the Manor and trace where their records were deposited.
This page is compiled by Timothy J. Owston of York, England,
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