Page images
[blocks in formation]




THE term manor came in with the Norman Conquest 1, but the The manorial system itself was not the work of the Normans. of the problem 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. 11.

The manorial school.

[ocr errors]

their own lands, but of dependent serfs in a condition of legal and economic subjection to their lord, the doctrine of original Teutonic freedom' being replaced by one of aristocratic Comination. The alternative theory holds that the village community in its primitive stages was entirely free from any manorial lordship, and was composed of independent landowners owning the land they occupied. Upon the view adopted depends our interpretation of the economic history of England for a thousand years after the coming of the English. If the foundations of English life rested from the outset upon serfdom, then the course of English social development has been from slavery to freedom. But if the fabric of English society was based on freedom, then the course of evolution was in the direction of legal and economic dependency. Thus the problem of the manor runs like a thread throughout the mediaeval half of English history.

The position of the manorial school is expressed in the view that "more things went to the 'making of England', than were imported in the keels of the English invaders of Britain"1. The English manor is regarded as the outcome of two elements, the Roman villa and the Teutonic tribal system. The Roman villa-the prevailing type of estate under the later Roman Empire was a large private estate worked originally by slaves under the control of a villicus or steward, but tending to become increasingly like a manor owing to the addition of coloni 2. These coloni were semi-servile tenants, who had each his own homestead and land but paid tribute to the lord, thus bearing a close resemblance to serfs. They were recruited from barbarians settled within the Empire, or from free tenants whom the burden of taxation had driven to abandon their liberty. Besides this marked similarity between the villa and the manor, proof is advanced of actual historical connexion between them, the evidence for this being drawn chiefly from Gaul3. In fact, in all the Roman provinces which passed under Teutonic sway the villa continued to survive, and the result of the Conquest is therefore represented as

1 F. Seebohm, The English Village Community (1883), p. xv.
2 Ibid. 263.

3 Ibid. 269.

mainly a change of lordship1. The Roman lord of the villa

[ocr errors]

gave place to the Teutonic lord of the manor, while the actween?

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 2. 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 from 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, 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 6, 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 3 Ibid. 367.

2 Ibid. 345, 415.

1 Seebohm, op. cit 415.
W. J. Ashley, The Origin of Property in Land (1891), p. xxviii.

5 Infra, p. 30.

F. Seebohm, Customary Acres and their Historical Importance (1914), 17; P. Vinogradoff, The Growth of the Manor (1905), 24-29.


agrarian 'shell'.

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 "2.) 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 3 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.

1 Ashley, Origin of Property, p. xxviii.

Hanssen, Agrarhistorische Abhandlungen, 496; cit. Seebohm, Village Community, 373. • Ibid. 326, 421.

Seebohm, op. cit. 380, 413.

« PreviousContinue »