Manors in the Middle Ages
Written by Simon Newman
History - Middle Ages
On October 1066, the English army under King Harold II was defeated by the Norman-French army of Duke William II of Normandy during the Battle of Hastings. The Normans then established the feudal system in England. All the land which was claimed by William the Conqueror was distributed amongst his fellow Normans as he rewarded them for fighting for him.
His proclamation of England was ruthless as he ordered ruthless killing of all English nobles except two, who turned traitor and helped him. The estates of lands given to his Norman allies were termed as Manors. The lord of each manor in the Middle Ages owed allegiance to the King and he was also answerable to the immediate superior of the King.
Thus, a medieval manor was a district under the control of a lord who had exclusive rights to exercise specific rights and privileges over the territory of his manor. Each of the manors was typically of a size of around 1200-1800 acres of land. The lord used to keep a certain portion of land directly under his control to support himself and his retinue and this land was used to be called as “demense.”
The rest of the land was often allotted to peasants and serfs who were required to pay rent for that land as they were the tenants of the manor. Usually, a manor included a manor house, farming land, forests, common pasture land, a mill, a village for serfs and peasants, and a church. The manor and his family used to live at the manor house away from the villagers.
Lord of the manor
Every lord of a manor had specific privileges over his manor but he had certain duties towards the king. He had to take the Oath of Fealty and was expected to follow it to his immediate superior and to the king. Every lord was expected to possess trained soldiers and he was expected to fight and to provide soldiers for the King or his immediate superior. On the other hand, the whole system of law and justice was under the control of the Lord of the manor. He had a right to allow people to live in his manor and to excommunicate them.
He also used to collect taxes and rent by the peasants and serfs for using the land of his manor. Everyone living on a manor was expected to pay rent to the lord of the manor or to provide certain services, such as, working for any chores required in the manor, working as a trained soldier for the lord of the manor so that he could help the king when it is required, or to provide clothes, arms and food for the soldiers.
A big portion of the land of England was distributed to lords of the manors who used to pay allegiance to the king either through rendering military services or through providing cash in lieu to the king or their immediate superior. Still, around 17% of all manors were preserved by the king for himself. On the other hand, around 25% of all manors were offered to bishoprics and monasteries. These specific manors, which were under the control of the bishoprics and monasteries, were known as ecclesiastic manors. They were significantly greater in size. A manor of middle ages was also known by the name Fief.
Lady of the Manor
During the medieval period, women had a very harsh life. Medieval laws gave complete rights for a husband over his wife, irrespective of her being a noble woman or a serf. A wife was effectively considered as the property of husband. The role of a wife was subservient and her responsibilities were to perform duties of a housewife. However, the Lady of a manor certainly held a different position. The lady of the manor often used to be the most honest and trustworthy companion of the lord of the manor and the lord often used to trust her and offer her the rights to rule and run the manor in his absence. She was considered as an authoritative figure of a manor in middle ages.
The lord of a manor was often expected to remain absent from the manor as he had the duties to pay his allegiance to his immediate successor and the King. In such situations or his absence, the lady of the manor officially held power to rule the manor. The lady of a manor was used to live with the lord in the manor house and she along with the lord of manor used to enjoy specific privileges over the manor which included hunting and judicial rights.
During the medieval period, education was too costly and rare. However, the lords and other members of nobility were expected to learn and get educated. Even the girls of nobility were offered the chance to get educated as they were expected to fulfill the duties of the lady of a manor in future. However, the education course of girls and women was very limited. They were basically taught the duties of a noble lady. Often this education was provided by the great ladies of noble households. Nunneries were also used to teach basic education for noble girls and ladies of manors.
Peasants of a manor
The lord of a manor used to allot land for peasants. A peasant used to have allotted land in small strips where he could till and grow crops. Each peasant was required to pay rents for that land; however, each peasant also had certain rights over the non-arable land of the manor.
As for example, he could cut a limited amount of hay from the waste land, and he could also cut wood from the forest of the manor to use it for fuel or building purposes. The peasants also had right to have a limited number of farm animals on the waste land. However, hunting rights were specifically meant for the lord of the manor and hunting was prohibited for serfs and peasants.