History St. Austell-Manorial Recds




MANORIAL RECORDS - terminology
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     


in the U.K.; terminology -
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 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. 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. The process continued with each lower level owing the next above either duty or goods, such as rent or portions of crops. People who actually lived on and worked the land were commonly known as “occupiers”.


The mode of holding land; a direct result of feudalism, which developed from the 11 th century. The two principal methods of tenure were freehold and copyhold.


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 copyhold lands.

Unfreehold (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 holder to various “customary payments” for permission to live away from the manor, for his daughter’s marriage, etc.


A fairly secure form of tenure developed by the 16 th 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, and when transferring the 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. The Lord also received a fee called a “heriot” on the death of one of his old tenants. 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.

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.


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 with the Dissolution of the Monasteries, records ended up in all sorts of repositories; one must be inventive and persistent in their searches.


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 16 th 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, encompass a whole village, or extend beyond and overlap more than one village. Other villages might be partitioned by 2 or more manors, such as St. Austell, Cornwall, which has a stone (the Menghu stone) embedded in a street near the town centre, marking the spot where 4 manors touched.

Wealthy principals often owned multiple manors across counties, which resulted in records which were 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 13 th and 14 th 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.

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.


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”.

Title Deed

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



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. “

Two websites with detailed explanations of everything regarding Manors and their records, and the National Archives glossary covering terms not shown above:


University of Nottingham (http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/ManuscriptsandSpecialCollections/ResearchGuidance/DeedsinDepth/Glossary.aspx

United Kingdom National Archives – glossary (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/mdr/help/mdr/glossary.htm)

A website regarding medieval genealogy, which contains interesting material, including abstracts for the Feet of Fines of Cornwall:
( http://www.medievalgenealogy.org.uk/fines/abstracts/CP_25_1_34_44.shtml

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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