Manors and their Records
§ What is a Manor?
§ Classes of Manorial Record
Using Manorial Records
Cumbrian Superior Lordships
History Department
Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
Cumbrian Manorial Records

Classes of Manorial Record

  1. Classes of Manorial Record
  2. Interpreting the Record of a Manor Court

1. Classes of Manorial Record

Manorial administration generated a wide range of records.  The following are the categories most commonly found.  The Example link at the end of an entry will take you to an image of the record in the Gallery section of the site, where detailed commentaries, translations and transcriptions will also be found.

Account. The Manorial Documents Register includes financial accounts (Latin compoti) drawn up by manorial officials, such as reeves (or 'graves') and bailiffs.  The division between manorial accounts and estate accounts is somewhat arbitrary: accounts may be classed as 'manorial' if they contain details of income and expenditure relating specifically to manorial administration, such as income from holding manorial courts (the 'pleas and perquisites of courts') or from entry fines and heriots, or expenditure on carrying out a perambulation of the boundaries of the manor, for example. Manorial accounts are generally in Latin.  They sometimes contain names of individual people or properties but the focus is on sums of money. Example

Admittance.  A copy of an entry in a court roll, admitting an individual to a tenancy in the manor, whether by inheritance (on the death of his father, for example) or by 'surrender', where the new tenant had purchased the tenancy and the previous tenant had surrendered his interest to the lord.  Tenants were admitted to copyhold and customary tenancies by this process.  On some manors separate 'Courts of Dimissions' were held for recording surrenders and admittances. Example

Call book or call roll.  An attendance register for a manor court, listing the tenants who were required to attend, including free tenants who held their land by 'suit of court'.  Some call books were updated year by year, with notes of tenants who had died or sold their land and the names of their successors. Example

Court book. The formal record of a manor court when written into a volume rather than a parchment roll or loose sheets.  In Cumbria some court books contain only a record of admittances and surrenders, rather than a full record of the sitting of a court. Click here for guidance on interpreting the record of a manorial court. Example

Court roll. The formal record of a manor court when in the form of a parchment or paper roll.  Sometimes used loosely to cover manor court records taking other forms, such as loose sheets of paper.  Click here for guidance on interpreting the record of a manorial court. Example

Custumal.  A survey or rental which includes details of the rents, services and customs by which tenants held their land. Example

Enfranchisement papers.  Enfranchisement, whereby a tenant bought the freehold interest in their tenancy from the lord, was common on Cumbrian manors, where customary tenantright gave tenants great security of tenure and severely limited the income a lord could obtain.  The process had begun in the 16th century on a few manors but became widespread during the 18th and 19th centuries.  It often generated considerable paperwork, including surveys and valuations of tenants' estates, valuations of timber on tenants' land, and financial papers calculating the sum for which the freehold would be bought. Example

Estreats.  A list, extracted from the court roll, detailing the fines and amercements imposed by the court at a particular sitting. Example

Extent.  A valuation of a manor, listing the value of each element from which the lord derived income: demesne lands, mills, woods, tenants' rents and services, etc.  Extent give a financial bird's eye view of a manor and are the commonest form of manorial survey in the medieval period.

Pain list.  A list of byelaws and orders ('pains' in the vernacular), breaches of which would result in the imposition of a financial penalty (an amercement) by the manor court. Example

Perambulation.  A description of the boundaries of a manor, often recording the boundaries as 'beaten' or perambulated by members of the manor court.  Perambulations were sometimes held routinely but often reflect the need to stake a claim in the face of a dispute over manorial rights, especially on waste ground on the margins of a manor.  By the 19th century, perambulations had become festive occasions. Example

Petition.  A formal request to the lord of the manor from a tenant or tenants.  On Cumbrian manors, many petitions ask for timber for building purposes, where the lord retained control over timber, even when growing on tenants' land. Example

Rental.  A list of tenants, recording the amount of rent due from each.  Example

Stewards' papers.  Ancillary papers created by the steward of a manor, including memoranda books, correspondence, copies of court papers, etc.  In the Manorial Documents Register this description is used to include papers concerning mineral rights, fisheries and the appointment of gamekeepers. Example

Survey.  A written description of a manor or manors, usually giving details of manorial boundaries and customs and detailing each holding of land.  By the 16th century some surveys, such as the superb 'Percy Survey' of the earl of Northumberland's estates in west Cumberland, give full field-by-field details of individual farms.  Surveys were sometimes drawn up by a specially convened meeting of the manor court, a 'Court of Survey.' Example

Terrier. A survey arranged topographically, field by field (or, in the case of open arable fields, strip by strip). Example

Valor. A summary valuation of a manor, laying out the income and expenses with a view to showing how much profit a manor could be expected to provide.  Valors were based on information in manorial accounts. Example

Verdict sheet.  The record of decisions made by a manor court jury.  These are often the original record made at the time of the court sitting, the substance of which would later be entered in the formal record of the court in a court roll or court book. Example

2. Interpreting the Record of a Manor Court

The main elements of the record of a manor court are likely to be as follows, though they will not necessarily be in this order:

a) The Preamble.  This will be in Latin until 1733, except during the interregnum of the 1650s, when some courts used English throughout. The preamble usually consists of a standard phrase:

'Manor of     A    .  Court     B     of     C     held at     D     on     E     before     F    .'

  • A =      Name of Manor.  Note that a manor did not necessarily cover the same area as a parish or township of the same name.  It might contain land in more than one place; or cover only part of a township.
  • B =      Type of Court, usually 'Court Baron' or 'Court Leet with view of Frankpledge'
  • C =      Name of Lord of Manor
  • D =      Where held
  • E =       Date
  • F =       Name of person who presided over the court.  This was usually the lord's steward (Latin senescallus), rather than the lord himself.

For an image of a standard preamble, click on Example.

b) The Call List.  A list of all freeholders who owed suit to the court.  The letters ap' beside a name record that he 'appeared' (i.e. was present) at the court; es', that he was 'essoined' (i.e. excused for non-appearance). Example

c) The Jury.  Tenants of the manor who corporately made decisions under oath. Example

d) The Record of Business Transacted by the Court.  This usually consisted of some or all of the following:

  • Admittances.  Transfers of copyhold or customary tenantright land in the manor, whether by inheritance (by death of his father etc.), or by sale ('by surrender'), where the previous owner 'surrenders' the property to the lord and the purchaser is admitted as the new tenant.  Example
  • Presentments.  Members of the community are amerced (fined) for breaches of byelaws and orders formerly made by the court. Example
  • Orders.  Acting in the interests of the lord and the whole community of the manor, the jury make specific orders and byelaws to promote communal well-being and to resolve disputes.  See the work of the manor courtExample
  • Appointment of Officers.  The election and swearing-in of manorial officials for the following year.  Officers might include: barleyman, constable, hedgelooker; houselooker; moor reeve; moss reeve; pinder or pounder.  Example
  • Pleas.  The hearing of minors civil cases including debt, trespass and 'detinue' (where someone owed goods, rather than money, to another). Manor courts could hear pleas where the damages claimed were not above 40 shillings. Example
  • Postscript by the Affeerors.  Affeerors were appointed by the court to fix and mitigate the penalties dealt out by the jury for proven offences. Example

Follow this link to see examples of various elements of court books and court rolls.

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