Manorial Recds




MANORIAL RECORDS - terminology & concepts
J. Mosman, OPC

For transcriptions of some Manorial rental records and surveys -

Treverbyn-Courteney (Treverbin Courtney),1591     1660 Parliamentary Survey - Treverbyn-Courteney   Austell Manor (Austell Prior)     Tregorrick Manor - 1602   Tewington-1710 Rents  Tewington Rents, 1796-1815  Tewington - 1564 through 1788, copy hold record

arranged in hierarchical order.

If read in order, each entry "builds" on the previous one; hopefully, by the end, one will have a very rudimentary understanding of the terms, and usage of these terms, regarding Manors and Land. The term “Lord” is used below in place of the more cumbersome “in-chief tenant” as a convenience. Many women were in-charge of Manors, and not all “in-chief tenants” were Lords. However, Lord of the Manor was used as a title in many areas.

        Forms of Land Sales          References



A system formalized by the Normans in which all land was the property of the Sovereign; technically, he was the only one who actually owned land. The Sovereign allotted land, in the form of “manors”, to tenants. The tenant “in chief” was often a Lord, or other member of the nobility, and not infrequently they were women. The principal tenant (in chief) , in turn, would allot land to sub-tenants, on specified conditions, who then in turn sub-let the land to others. Each lower level owed the next above either duty or goods, such as rent, portions of crops, and/or physical work such as ploughing of fields. People who actually lived on and worked the land were commonly known as “occupiers” in manorial records .


The mode of holding land; tenure could be for life, for several lives, or for a stated number of years. The two principal methods of tenure were freehold and customary/conventionary.


Land which was held by right, and not by the will of the Lord. Therefore the land could be bought and sold without permission of any Lord of the Manor. Manors themselves were freehold. Title deeds exist for these lands but were not created for conventionary/copyhold lands.

Title Deed

A formalized conveyance of land, which was recorded in detail. Title deeds only applied to Freehold land.

Customary/conventionary tenure (also known as base, servile, or villain tenure)

Before copyhold, tenants retained land at the will of the Lord – they could be ejected at his will, had no title protection in the Royal courts, and could not convey land without the Lord’s consent. It was a very unstable title to land, which also subjected the unfree (villain) holder to various “customary payments” for permission to live away from the manor, for his daughter’s marriage, etc.

Tenantry (free and unfree conventionaries, villains, and nativi de stipite)

Cornwall is rather unique, in that it contained manors customarily run under norms set throughout England, and manors controlled by the Duchy. The Duchy established categories of tenants unique to Cornwall, which categories spread throughout many manors in the county.

Customary tenants were divided into two groups - conventionary and nativi de stipite. Conventionary tenants were divided into two groups as well - free and unfree. They all paid rents at the four principal terms of the year, and for Duchy tenants, their instalments of assession fines at Michaelmas in each of the first six years of the seven-year assessional term. They all paid various fees and duties. Upon death, nativi de stipite lands went, by law, to the youngest son; lands of conventionary tenants went to the eldest.

The biggest difference between free and unfree conventionaries was in inheritance customs and respective death duties with which estates were burdened. The estates of free conventionaries were liable to a heriot of the best animal from each holding, but no other goods. On the other hand, all the goods and chattels of unfree conventionaries and nativi de stipite were forfeit to the lord on death, with the sole exception in Cornwall of the unfree tenants of Rillaton manor. In 1382, the unfree tenants of the original 17 Duchy manors petitioned the Duchy council to have the custom prevailing at Rillaton (ie, a heriot only) extended to everyone; the petition was denied.

Villains historically (c. 1400 & earlier) had farms of approximately thirty acres, in the form of strips of land about 1/2 acre each, interspersed with strips of land owned by other villains, which formed communal fields. Each would own strips in several fields, which allowed for an early form of rotation of crops. They most often lived in common in villages or hamlets, with the fields surrounding them, not in separate houses built on each property. Tenant farmers, or the yeoman-class, arose from these villains after 1389, when the Black Death made such agricultural labourers valuable, and expensive; earning more allowed them over time, if they were thrifty, to purchase their freedom..

Cottars (later known as cottagers) had on average five acres, and fitted into the "serf" classification, having poor possessions and not many animals. Slaves, mentioned in the Domesday book, who had no land, disappeared within a century, or were absorbed into the cottars. Cottars, not owning oxen, were exempted from plough service, but they were required to work during the harvest for the lord, and many were required to supply the lord's household with eggs, honey, or poultry in lieu of other services.

In law, most English villains remained the property of their lords, and thus could not possess anything. But in practice, estates usually passed intact to heirs after heriot and mortuary had been paid. On some Cornish estates, it was customary for the lord to seize part of his deceased villains' estates, commonly one third. The customary right of the Duchy to all the goods of unfree tenants was not exercised to the full; on the death of an unfree tenant his moveable estate was valued by six manorial jurymen, the expenses of the burial and wake deducted, and a third part of the final valuation allowed to pass to his widow or next heir without charge. Furthermore, goods ceded to the Duchy were frequently resold cheaply to heirs.

Nativi de stipite, or neifs by birth, formed a category of tenants distinct from the conventionary and free tenants of the assessionable manors; they resembled in many respects the typical English villains of this time. They were tied to their lands, which they held by inheritance, were not subject to the periodic assessions of the conventionary tenants, and their rents were fixed. In a time of rising demand for land, there were increases in the prices of conventionary lands, but rent levels of land held by nativi remained steady. After 1347, adjustments to this system were made, and increasing charges for tallage were levied until in the 15th century equivalent prices were reached. Nativi de stipite holdings decreased as families died out, especially in the years of the Black Death (1348-49), until none existed (circa 1500).


A fairly secure form of tenure developed by the 16th century; tenure by copy of court roll “at the will of the lord according to the custom of the manor” was largely independent of the will of the Lord . Copy-holders had many of the same rights as free-holders; however, no matter how the property had been obtained (purchase, inheritance, etc.) copy-holders had to be “admitted” to ownership by the Lord, at which time fees could be assessed.

When transferring ownership of a property, the property had to be returned to the Lord (“surrender”) , who then passed it on to the next tenant for a fee and an oath of allegiance. These transfers were done through the Manorial Courts. Land was often held by the same family of copyholders for many generations, but each followed the above practices when passing their copyhold from one generation to another.

To ensure land was only granted to solid, worthy persons of known character, two guarantors were required to stand surety for admittees.

As record was made of the transfers of land, copies of the forms were given to the tenant by the stewards, which they retained. From this practice, the term “copy-holder” originated.

Starting in the 1840’s, copy-hold was transformed . Finally by the Law of Property Act, 1922, all copyhold land was converted into freehold tenured land.


Any resource that is reserved for the use of the land owner - the King, or manorial lord to which it has been granted - as opposed to that which is rented or lent out to others. On a medieval manor, this could be not only agricultural lands worked by peasants (villains and cottars) a few times a week, but woodlands, orchards, ponds or lakes, mills, bakeries, and the manor house itself. For the use of some of these, such as mills and bakeries, cottars and villains would pay a fee; on some manors, they were limited by law and custom to only using the lord's mill or bakery..


Prior to 1333, lands of 17 Cornish manors were held by the Earl of Cornwall; in that year, they fell into the hands of Edward III. In 1337 The King established the Duchy of Cornwall, which gave the eldest son of the serving King title to those manors. In the south-east these were Trematon, Calstock, Climsland, Rillaton, and Liskeard; in the north-east, Tintagel, Helstone-in-Triggshire, and Penmayne; in central Cornwall Talskiddy, Restormel, Penlyne, Penkneth, Tewington*, and Tybesta; and in the west Tywarhaile, Moresk, and Helston-in-Kirrier. (Tewington lands partially covered areas within St. Blazey, St. Austell, Treverbyn, and Charlestown.)

Before 1337, the villani appear to have held land on very similar terms to the nativi de stipite, having hereditary titles at fixed rents, owing all their goods and chattels to their lord on death, and paying an entry fine on inheritance. The conventionaries were all free, and held their lands by leases of apparently indeterminate length, which were renewed on a rather haphazard basis for nominal fines/fees. Only when a conventionary holding changed hands was a fine of any consequence charged. Conventionary tenures apparently existed in name for many years previous to the first known record of them in 1288. It was not until the regular system of assessions was instituted in 1337 that conventionary tenants could be either free or unfree.

When the Duchy was founded in 1337, there were approximately 800 conventionaries on the manors, three times as many as the number of free tenants, and more than ten times the number of villains. Conventionary rents were in aggregate more than six times as great as the combined free and villain rents. This would make them the most important category of tenants on the Cornish manors of the Duchy. The significance of free tenure should not be underestimated, however; lands held in freehold constituted more than a third of all lands on Duchy manors while on Tewington, freehold lands were more extensive than customary lands.

When the estates of the Earldom passed into the hands of Edward III in 1333, a council was established for their management. They decided that all leases should cover seven years; these leases would be renewed or redistributed at a court of assession, held some months before the leases expired. (In the 15th c., some leases were given for up to 21 years, but by the reign of Henry VII, the 7-year lease had been reestablished.) Assessioners, (generally the receiver and steward of the Cornish estates of the Duchy, the auditors of the ministers' accounts, and a senior official),usually four or five in number, would visit each manor in turn, and all persons wishing to take leases had to attend in person. (Leases were at times taken by two or three persons together.) Rents remained fixed, while changes in demand were reflected in adjustments to fines payable in instalments over the first 6 years of the 7-year contract.

Some leases remained with one family for quite some time, but the Duchy strictly enforced their right to change lessees when there was a court of assessions. Of course, the lessee could also quit the lease at will. These concepts led to a turnover of properties unusual elsewhere in the country.

The Duchy still controls much of the mining areas in Cornwall, and earns a substantial income from the minerals extracted. therefrom


Payment made on the death of a tenant; often the "best bull" or even the best horse of the deceased. (or the best possession - even a garment!) This was later commuted to a monetary amount.


Land owned by an individual who did not have legal jurisdiction over it; however, wealthy landowners could have one or more manors in their estate(s), which could span parishes and even counties.

When estates have been fragmented, as happened at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, records ended up in all sorts of repositories; one must be inventive and persistent in their searches to discover them.


Manors were freehold property, and could be bought and sold at will. Sales of manors were recorded by feoffment, bargain and sale, or lease and release. Manors could be mortgaged and form part of marriage settlements. Often, a Lord would have a church built on his designated land – the manor – along with other conveniences such as mills, which attracted villagers, and an entire community would grow around the church, which eventually evolved into a parish over the centuries.

Each manor developed particular rules and regulations, mitigated by custom and local practice.

By the 16th century, the manor was a system of administration over lands held by the principal tenants. Manorial lands might be non-contiguous parcels which extended into more than one parish, encompassed a whole village, or extended beyond and overlapped more than one village. Other villages might be partitioned by 2 or more manors, such as St. Austell, Cornwall, which had a stone (the Menghu stone) once embedded in a street near the town centre, marking the spot where 4 manors touched. (The stone now resides in the Churchyard near the original spot.)

Wealthy principals, such as the Arundel family, often owned multiple manors across multiple counties, which resulted in records being widely dispersed.


A dwelling place, which was nominally at the centre of an estate, and which also acted as an administrative office.

Later “manor houses” were newly built with a distance between them and other settlement (the village, hamlet, etc.) as the administrative function removed to separate offices.

Manorial Court

A court, both judicial and administrative, that was held by the principal tenant to determine and collect rents, deal with the allocation or exchange of lands, collect fees for using the Lord’s land for such things as grazing cattle, enforce bye-laws, etc. By the 15 th century, the court defined the manor; if there was no court, there was no manor. There were two types of court - Court Baron and Court Leet - whose functions often overlapped and were intermixed.

These courts created, regulated, and enforced bye-laws unique to that manor which regulated life, from repair of streets to pollution of watercourses and gaming in alehouses. They utilized juries beginning in the 13th and 14th centuries. The laws evolved completely separately from the common law, and mainly concerned oversight of the community and its lands.

Unique terminology developed in these courts which might require the use of a Law Dictionary or specialized book.

Manorial Court Rolls

Rolls, many of parchment, which contained records of court procedures and decisions, frequently regarding copy-hold, were created when Manorial Courts were held. Later, these records were maintained in bound volumes. Records that survive are chiefly held in County Record Offices, although many remain in private hands. It should never be assumed that any records will have survived for a particular manor; one should check with the entities listed under “Reference” below, and definitely with the National Archives and local County Record Offices..

Many of these rolls were indexed, which have proven very valuable, as the original rolls may no longer exist. Records were kept in Latin as late as 1731 in some Courts.

Manorial Documents

Court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers, documents, and books of every description relating to the boundaries, wastes, customs, or courts of a manor.; any documents generated by the internal administration of a Manor.


Principal manor employee who held responsibility for maintaining the land, keeping accounts, overseeing court functions, etc. This office often evolved into solicitor/steward offices at later dates. Also known as an “agent”.


"Foreman" of the manor, who oversaw the work to be done, assigned duties, ensured activities took place as planned, worked with the hind on matters regarding animals, and generally kept the manor productive.





Feet of Fines = used since late in the 12th century, this was a procedure for ending a fictious legal action by agreement - the final concord, the 'fine'- between the parties. By the middle of the 13th c., it became a popular way of conveying freehold property. 3 copies of the agreement were made on a single piece of parchment, which was then divided into 3 by wavy lines. (The courts copy became the "feet".) Each party to the agreement, and the court, retained a copy, thereby reducing forgeries and possible loss. Legally, it could be much harder to challenge than a conveyance only by a charter. The procedure survived until the 1830s. While it could be cumbersome, the procedure had several benefits, one of which was that married women could participate in them without the risk of later challenge on grounds of coercion by her husband.

Feoffment (enfeoffment) = the term used to describe the conveyance of lands held in “fee simple” from one party to another. To help prevent land-transaction fraud, in 1677 the law was changed to require written evidence of any such transaction, which resulted in a Deed of Feoffment. This process became obsolete by the 19th century .

Fee Simple = Direct payment for land with clear title being given to purchaser/inheritor/etc.

Fee not so simple = a "do-over". (this is a joke)

Fee Tail (or Entailed) = entailed land, which had to pass to future generations of the recipient without possibility of changing circumstance; for instance, the eldest male in the family must inherit the land. If there were no males to inherit, the land would revert to the original holder, or his heirs.

Lease and Release = In an attempt to avoid procedures of the manorial court, a “Lease” would be given for payment of a sum and rent of a peppercorn. The next day, under an Indenture of Release, the owner would release his rights to the reversion of the property. This form of land sale was made obsolete in 1841.

Reversion = Land or property, the legal title of which by law or practice reverts to the previous owner, usually caused by the non-fulfillment of a contract. (Often found in manorial land transactions; should rental &/or fees not be paid, etc., the land reverted to the manors owner. See Fee-Tail, above.)




Manorial Documents Register
Quality House, Quality Court, Chancery Lane
London, WC2A 1HP

Record details of all known surviving manorial records, regarding custodians and places of
repository. Notes which records are online, with links.

The U.K. National Archives website states:

“PDA Harvey in "Manorial Records" gives three meanings of the word manor; "a residence", "a unit of estate administration" and "a piece of landed property with tenants over whom the landlord exercised rights of jurisdiction in a private court". It is the third definition which has been applied in compiling the Manorial Documents Register. Many of the secondary sources listed in the general bibliography provide further definitions.

For the purposes of the Manorial Documents Register the definitive proof of the existence of a manor is the survival of records produced by the manorial court. The Register notes the location of manorial records and its purpose is to guide users to the location of these records. The manor name information within the Manorial Documents Register is not designed to be a definitive list of all manors which existed but only records the names of manors for which documents were, or may have been, created in order to enable those documents to be entered on the Register. Therefore, the lists of manors and manor names compiled should not be regarded as a definitive register of all manors that may have existed. The Manorial Documents Register records the existence of documents, not the existence of manors. “

Detailed explanations of everything regarding Manors and their records, and the National Archives glossary covering terms not shown above, are here:

University of Nottingham - (

United Kingdom National Archives – glossary (

Medieval Genealogy, which contains interesting material, including abstracts for the Feet of Fines of Cornwall, is here::

General sources for manorial terms -

Assistance with reading manorial records


Discussions of types of documents

Life in Medieval Times

Genealogy and family history





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