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The Manor

13th century manor house

Lands granted or enfeoffed to an individual were usually associated with a parish. England's parishes, all of the Roman Catholic Church at the time, for the most part had been defined before the advent of William the Conqueror in the 11th century. Twenty years after the Conquest, the parishes of England were listed in the Domesday Book, according to the name of the individual who held them, often adding a note of who held the same land before the Conquest.

Such lands granted, if of sufficient extent, would often be known as a manor. A parish could contain more than one manor, with the various manors often being divisions of the original lands granted. A 'manor' usually included a manor house as well as its associated lands.

The person to whom the lands or manor was granted was said to 'hold' them; he (or she) never 'owned' the lands. In medieval England, no one owned land except the king. By granting lands as a knight's fee, the king (or perhaps a baron) gave the grantee the right to occupy and gain benefit, usually in the form of money, from use of the land. So we see in 1276: 'Eustace de Watford held in capite of the king the manor of Watford by one knight's fee.'

The manor, held by a 'lord', encompassed the various peoples who lived and worked on the lands of the manor. Usually there were three 'classes' of lands and the citizenry associated with them. First, or the highest rank, were the Free Tenants, who held and occupied specific land, in return for service in some form to the lord, potentially, part of a knight's fee. Next in the hierarchy were the Villeins, who occupied and worked on certain land, in return for payment of rent or providing other service, such as plowing, to the lord of the manor. Third, the Demesne was the lord's own land, worked for him by peasants of the village or parish.


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