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Manorial Terms etc

Explanation of various terms used

Manorial termolology

Manor: An estate held by a Lord or Lady of the Manor, consisting of demesne land belonging specifically to the Lord and various holdings let out to tenants, the whole being governed by a manorial court according to customs established since time immemorial. The estate did not necessarily form a contiguous geographical area.

Court or court baron: The forum governing the manor and where, officially, land transactions took place. Manorial tenants were normally required to attend. Often amalgamated with the court leet, a low level law court where minor offences were tried. Originally, these may have been held every three weeks; with time, they became less frequent, maybe once a year, or in some cases only as needed. Any land transactions between times could be dealt with by the steward with maybe two customary tenants as witnesses, and reported at the next court.

Homage: a term used both for the expression of fealty by a tenant to his lord and for the set of customary tenants acting as a jury at a manorial court. I have used the single word Homage in the summaries to indicate service on such a jury.

Copyhold: A form of land tenure, officially at the will of the Lord of the Manor, but actually more like modern freehold than a tenancy. A copyholder wanting to quit could specify who was to be the next tenant. Thus, copyhold land could be bought and sold, let out to undertenants or used as security for a loan, such as a mortgage. It was held from the manor in return for a rent (generally much less than the market value) and the performance of particular duties. In earlier times, money was scarce and services such as working on the Lord's own land (the demesne) and military duties were of relatively greater importance. Over time, these were commuted into payments of money. The requirement for military service was abolished by statute in 1660: this is taken as marking the end of the feudal system. Apart from the rent, fees (fines) were charged when the land changed hands. The legal record of the land holding was the manorial court roll or book; the tenant received a copy of the entry, hence "copyholder". The tenant might also be called a "customary tenant" of the manor. With the passage of time, copyhold tenancy was replaced by freehold, and was finally abolished in 1926.

Customary tenant: One who received his holding not by having a copy of an entry in the court roll, but by accepting a token such as a rod (cf the mediaeval practice of livery of seisin, where the purchaser would accept a handful of earth from the land being sold, in front of witnesses). In other respects, the same as a copyhold tenant, and also sometimes called a copyhold tenant. In some cases (e.g. the Manor of Weeley) it is clear from the records that both methods (copy of court roll and the rod) were used together.

Freehold: land held of a manor, not free of charge, but free of the requirement to observe the customs of the manor. Over time, in many manors this became the predominant form of holding and often where a manor became entirely freehold relatively early, the court records have been lost.

Surrender: the first stage in the transfer of copyhold land - giving it up to the Lord of the Manor, in the person of his steward or other representative.

Conditional surrender: Here the land is held by the Lord of the Manor as security for a loan or mortgage. If the tenant surrendering the land failed to pay off the loan, then the lender was admitted to the land.

Surrender to the use of a will: There is a distinction between a testament, bequeathing movable goods, and a last will, where land is devised. Prior to 1540, most land could not be devised, only inherited according to law or custom. There was good reason for this. In order that the system of holding land in return for military service could function properly, it was important that estates should not be broken into units that were too small: that is to say, an estate should pass as a whole to a single heir and not be split between several sons. A further problem arose as a result of transfer of land to the church and other bodies. Land held by the "dead hand" (Latin mortmain) of perpetual religious bodies, trustees or other undying organisations would not be inherited, thus payments arising on inheritance would never be made, depriving lords and ultimately the King of their income. The conveyance of land to religious bodies without permission was outlawed by the Statute of Mortmain in 1279 (25 Edw 1 c.36); this was later extended to other bodies. A procedure adopted in order to leave land to an heir other than as prescribed by law or custom was to transfer the land to trustees for the use of the original owner, who would produce a document - a last will - saying who should have the use of the land after his death. As this had the additional effect of avoiding the payment of fees on the owner's death (actual ownership not being transferred), thereby defeating the purpose of the Statute of Mortmain, the practise was banned under the Statute of Uses of 1535 (27 Hen 8 c.10). This proved unpopular with those whose aim was merely to devise land to heirs of their own choice. Their wish was granted in 1540 by means of the Statute of Wills (32 Hen 8 c.1). By this time, tenure by military service had declined in importance, the substitute being a monetary payment, scutage. The requirement that copyhold land to be devised must first be surrendered to the use of a will was abolished in 1815.

Admission: the final stage in the transfer of copyhold land - its acceptance by the new tenant.

Heriot: a fee, often the "best beast," payable to the lord of the manor on the death of a copyholder.

Fine: not necessarily a punishment, just a fee for some service of the court. The proper term for the punishment was an amercement.

Remainder or reversion: land might be bequeathed to someone for life, with the remainder or reversion to some other heir to follow afterwards.

Recovery: It might happen that someone received land following a bequest to himself and his heirs, or under other terms that might be taken to mean he could not sell the land. This sort of thing could be defeated by means of a court action known as a recovery, involving the vendor and purchaser acting together. The purchaser would pretend that the land had always been his, that he had been evicted by Hugh Hunt, John Doe or Richard Roe (people who did not in fact exist) and who had then, fraudulently, sold it to the vendor and who therefore did not have good title. The vendor would then introduce one or more people (vouchees) who had allegedly guaranteed the sale and thus had now to defend his title. The purchaser would request an adjournment while he conferred with the vouchee(s). When the sitting resumed, the vouchee(s) would be absent, and so the purchaser would win the suit. This arcane procedure was used in order to fit the case to existing modes of court action. It would often be followed by a further conveyance of the land back to the original owner, who would now hold the land free of encumbrances.
The recovery in the manor of Dedham Hall, 1685, involving Matthew Alefounder and his wife Bridget was a little more complicated. Some parts of this are elided in the record, but as far as I can tell, firstly, they surrendered their rights to the reversion of some land following the death of Susanne Bacon to John Fenn. Andrew Kidd then recovered it from him, naming John Doe and Richard Roe, with Matthew Alefounder, his wife and Henry Fenn junior as vouchees. Andrew Kidd then surrendered the rights to Matthew Alefounder and his wife, who could then assign the rights to particular parcels of the land to their heirs separately; previously the rights would have gone only to the heirs of Matthew (they having no children of their own).

Land and its measurement

Table from Thomas Alefounder's map

Acres Roods Poles
House and Yard
0 2 39
Loy Field
6 1 31
Ducks Croft
6 0 5
5 1 24
The Part of Barn Field
which is Freehold

4 0 19
Total of the Freehold
22 2 38
The Part of Barn Field
which is Copyhold

2 3 38
Total of Copyhold & Freehold
25 2 36
Acres, rods and perches: According to modern dictionaries, a rod or perch is 5½ yards. As used here, these are measures of area, but I have never found e.g. "square rod" in manorial records: it is just taken for granted that that is what is meant. I have, however, found the Latin term perticata, which Charles Trice Martin (The Record Interpreter, 1911) defines as a square perch. Nor, indeed, were rods and perches the same thing. A table of land holdings on Thomas Alefounder's map of the land belonging to Boxtead Vicarage in Pebmarsh, Essex in 1764 (Essex Record Office ref. D/P 155/3/14) makes everything clear: there were 40 poles or perches to the rod, and 4 rods to the acre. It should not be assumed that this would apply throughout the whole country and at all times, but as yet I have not found in the records that I have examined for Essex or Suffolk anything to show that a different system was being used. In the summaries of manorial records, the abbreviations A, R and P mean acres, rods and perches.

Messuage or tenement: a dwelling house with the surrounding land. Often abbreviated mess and tent in the summaries.

Appurtenances: Various rights associated with a tenancy, such as allowing cattle to graze on common land. Abbreviated appts in the summaries.

Curtilage: courtyard or piece of land near a house

Pightle: a small piece of land

wareland: fallow land

Monetary units and coins

The basic unit of currency in England was and is the pound; originally this referred to a (Troy) pound weight of silver. The Troy pound, 12 ounces, now 373.26 grams, is still used by jewellers for gold, silver and precious stones. The modern symbol for the pound, £ (written before the number), is derived from a capital letter L, from the Latin libra. In old documents the abbreviations l or li may be found written after or as a superscript to the number. Until decimalisation in 1971, the pound was divided into 20 shillings (abbreviated s) of 12 pence (240 pence to the pound). The abbreviation for penny was the letter d, from denarius, a Roman coin.

The penny was originally made of silver, and worth its weight in that metal, 1/240 of a pound. Because of the lack of smaller denomination coins, they were often cut into halves or quarters. Copper pennies came into use in 1797; bronze was used from 1860.

Some half-penny coins were struck in the reign of Alfred the Great (871-899), but pennies continued to be cut until ½d and ¼d coins were introduced by Edward I. These coins were also originally silver. Under a patent of James I in 1613, John, Lord Harrington, struck farthing tokens in copper. The first regular issue in copper was in 1672; as with pennies, bronze was used from 1860. The word farthing means a quarter of something; on its own, it refers to a ¼d coin.

The mark, 13s 4d (two thirds of a pound) was sometimes used as a unit of account, but was never issued as a coin in England. There were, however, guinea coins, originally worth 20s in 1663, but the value rose, until in 1695 it was maybe as high as 30s. It was fixed at 21½s in 1696. Sir Isaac Newton, then Master of the Mint, fixed the value at 21s (£1 1s) in 1717. Silver guineas continued to be made until 1813.

Latin terms of unknown or uncertain meaning

jurages: ?

edificat: appears to mean a building, but why this might be used as a description of a piece of land, I do not know.

gurgitem: probably a stream or weir; in this case, presumably a piece of land containing one of these.

gustatio and tastator: both of these terms appear to mean taster, the latter possibly more specifically, an ale-taster.

pannifex: Almost certainly a clothier, a wholesale dealer in wollen cloth, no doubt derived from pannis cloth (not to be confused with panis bread). I have only seen this used in connection with Mathew Alefounder, who was, and is described elsewhere in the same manorial records as, a clothier. The usual term for a clothier, as given in dictionaries, is vestarius, but this actually refers to a dealer in clothes.

navifex: Shipwright. The Latin term is used in the Great and Little Clacton court records to denote the occupation of John Alefounder. Navi- suggests something to do with ships. A wholesale dealer in ships (cf pannifex) seems unlikely at a time when merchants would club together to charter just one. Other ship-related occupations have perfectly good Latin equivalents, but I suppose this would not prevent a scribe, unaware of the established term, inventing a new one. This appears to be what has happened here. In the registers of St. Dunstan, Stepney, can be found the baptismal records of John's children: he is consistently described as a shipwright. According to Charles Trice Martin (The Record Interpreter, 1892) the usual Latin term for a shipwright is navicularius (which can also mean shipowner).

Last updated 4th March 2011 by Peter Alefounder