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THE ORIGIN OF THE MANOR
THE term manor came in with the Norman Conquest 1, but the The
problem manorial system itself was not the work of the Normans. Of the It was already in full growth when William first set foot on manor. English soil, although continental ideas profoundly modified its later development. Beyond this point, however, certainty ends, and it is still disputed among historians whether on the eve of the Conquest the manor was comparatively a recent institution, or whether it was the original basis of English society. The problem of the manor has accordingly given rise to two schools, the Manorial and the Teutonic. The former connect the manor with the Roman system of land-holding which, they assert, was adopted by the English invaders as the basis of their settlement. The latter maintain that the Saxons settled on the soil in free village communities of peasant proprietors, who gradually lost their freedom and developed into the villeins of Domesday Book. The issue between the two schools is not a barren speculation, but a matter of the greatest historical importance. It involves the fundamental question whether the startingpoint of our history is the freedom or the servitude of the great mass of the nation. The Roman theory of the manor implies that from the first the rural population of England consisted, not of a race of free peasants tilling
1" This name Mannor began with the Normans .. for I finde noe suche name with the Saxons": A Mannor and Court Baron (Harleian MS. 6714), ed. N. J. Hone (1909), p. II.
their own lands, but of dependent serfs in a condition of
cratic domination. The alternative theory holds that the
from any manorial lordship, and was composed of independent
The position of the manorial school is expressed in the manorial
view that “more things went to the 'making of England', school.
than were imported in the keels of the English invaders of
1 F. Seebohm, The English Village Community (1883), p. xv. 2 Ibid. 263.
8 Ibid. 269.
mainly a change of lordship? The Roman lord of the villa gave place to the Teutonic lord of the manor, while the servile cultivators of the soil remained unchanged. The ease with which barbarian chieftains and tribesmen stepped into the position of the Romans, and were absorbed into the complex arrangements of Roman society, is explained by the assertion that in their own country they were lords of serfs. Tacitus's account of the ancient Germans is interpreted to show that their tribal system comprised manorial elements. German slaves, when not attached to the household, were servile tenants over whom the tribesmen exercised a manorial authority. It was natural, then, that the Teutonic settlements in the conquered Roman provinces should be on manorial lines; the Teutonic and Roman land-systems so closely resembled each other that they easily combined to create the manorial system of mediaeval Europe 3.
Admittedly no direct evidence exists to prove the con- The tinuity of the Roman villa and the English manor, but argument everything is held to indicate that the process which evolved analogy. the manor on the continent was at work in this country. The identity of the manorial system in England with that of North France and Western Germany points to their common origin, but the latter was clearly the outcome of Roman influences 4, and so justifies the view that similar influences produced the English manor. Moreover, many features of the manor can only be explained by the theory of a Roman origin. In the first place, the distinction between the tributary holdings of the servile tenants and the demesne round which they were gathered, comprised the essence of the manorial idea 5, but was absent from the economic systems of both Wales and Germany. Welsh society included a class of tenants, termed taeogs, who were settled on the soil and furnished contributions to the chief of the tribe. But they were a separate community, situated apart from the free tribesmen and working their holdings for their own 1 Seebohm, op. cit 415.
2 Ibid. 345, 415.
3 Ibid. 367. 'W. J. Ashley, The Origin of Property in Land (1891), p. xxviii. - Infra, p. 30.
. F. Seebohm, Customary Acres and their Historical Importance (1914), 17; P. Vinogradoff, The Growth of the Manor (1905), 24-29.
benefit. The tribesmen themselves were not lords of manors, "an aristocracy of idle conquerors living on the produce of servile labour", but cultivators of the soil who maintained their households by their own exertions. Similarly, the German land-system, if Tacitus's description of the first century is applicable to the fifth, may have exhibited some manorial tendencies, but there was certainly no intimate relation established between the home farm and the dependent holdings, no concentration of labour and capital upon one and the same estate—the distinctive marks of the manorial system. On the other hand, the distinction between the demesne and the villenagium 1 is an important feature of the villa, and accordingly is regarded as conclusive evidence that the English system of land-holding was developed from the Roman.
A second characteristic of the manorial community was the nature of the agrarian 'shell' into which it fitted, namely the Open Field System of cultivation. On this feature of the manor the evidence of Hanssen is cited :
The Anglo-Saxons and the Frisians and Low Germans and Jutes who came with them to England cannot have brought the three field system with them into England, because they did not themselves use it at home in NorthWest Germany and Jutland”? In North Germany, which was free from Roman influences, the one field system prevailed, and here was the home of the English invaders. But the three field system is found in Roman provinces 8 or in districts adjoining them, and must therefore be attributed to the Romans, who seem to have introduced it into Britain. Britain during the Roman occupation formed
the granary of the North”, and the importance of its corn tribute led the Romans to improve its methods of tillage. Further, the English manor, besides reproducing the fundamental features of the villa, retained many of the actual historical usages of the Romano-German provinces 4. The mediaeval system of taxation based on the hidage, and many of the menial services exacted from the serf, were survivals of the Roman land-system.
1 Ashley, Origin of Property, p. xxviii.
· Hanssen, Agrarhistorische Abhandlungen, 496; cit. Seebohm, Village Community, 373. 3 Seebohm, op. cit. 380, 413.
4 Ibid. 326, 421.
Other arguments are advanced in favour of the Roman Docuorigin of the manor. There is documentary evidence, ex- evidence.
mentary tending back to the seventh and even sixth century, to show that Saxon estates of a manorial type existed in England for hundreds of years before the Norman Conquest 1. Of these Anglo-Saxon documents the best known is the Rectitudines Singularum Personarum belonging to the eleventh century, which affords a general picture of serfdom that only lacks Norman terminology to make it complete. It is supplemented by other documents which describe two early English estates of a manorial character, Tidenham and Stoke. Lastly, the laws of Ine (seventh century) and of Ethelbert (sixth century) are interpreted in favour of a manorial structure of society. It follows, therefore, that almost immediately after the English Conquest the manor had become the prevailing type of estate, and must accordingly have been the original basis of the Saxon settlements. The intervening period is too short to allow of the alternative theory that England was covered with free village communities, which were gradually reduced to manorial subjection. Thus on the one hand the mediaeval manor traced its most characteristic features to the Roman villa, while on the other it was prevalent among the Anglo-Saxons very soon after their conquest of Britain.
This conclusion is also reached by another line of argument Nature based upon the indivisible nature of the tenurial holdings. tenurial The universal feature of the mediaeval village community holdings. was the equality of the holdings, which almost everywhere conformed to a uniform standard 3. From the earliest times the normal type of peasant holding was the yardland, or virgate, consisting of thirty acres scattered in strips over the open fields. These virgates were never divided among heirs, and for centuries had passed from father to son without
* Seebohm, op. cit. 126180
3 Infra, p. 33.