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From before the Norman Conquest until the 18th century, the manorial system provided the administrative framework for the lives of much of the population in England. In the 17th century the manor was defined as:

“a little commonwealth, whereof the tenants are the members, the land the bulke, and the Lord the head”.

The manorial system generated a large quantity of archives, produced as a result of the internal administration of a manor, and they can tell us much about how people lived. The manor was an economic unit; normally there was a demesne which the lord of the manor kept for his own use, while the rest of the land was tenanted or common or waste. Manorial courts were used to enforce payment of dues and performance of services required of tenants, and to state (and restate) the customs of the manor relating both to tenure of land and to its use. For the Middle Ages, particularly the period from the late thirteenth to the late fifteenth century, manorial records form one of the principal surviving archive sources.

The main types of records which survive are court rolls, rentals, accounts and custumals. Until 1733, they are in Latin (except for the Commonwealth period). Copyhold, which survived as a form of land tenure until 1922, was a tenure linked to the manorial system. Copyhold land could be bought and sold, but the title depended on each transaction being written into the court rolls (later books) and a copy being supplied to the purchaser as part of the transaction. This resulted in a continuing income for the lord of the manor.
Stafford Castle, The Centre Of The Medieval Estates Of The Earls Of Stafford. This View Shows It As Rebuilt In The Early 19th Century.

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Extract From A General Account Roll For The Staffordshire Manors Of Edmund, Earl Of Stafford, 1399

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