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Rural Society in the Manor Courts of Northamptonshire, 1350-1500.

By Michael John Thornton


The lives of medieval English peasants were influenced more by the manor than any other secular institution. Through its court they resolved disputes, received customary holdings, engaged in the land market and were subject to manorial discipline. Where the lord exercised view of frankpledge, his court licensed them to produce and sell bread and ale, and they presented petty criminals and offenders against by-laws or custom. Better-off peasants, serving as jurors and manorial office-holders, were able to influence the procedures and business of the court. This thesis identifies the extent to which peasant society remained subject to manorial courts, during the 150 years after the Black Death, in certain Northamptonshire manors, grouped in three different regions of the county and governed by different forms of lordship: royal, gentry and conventual. In the royal manors remote lordship effectively devolved management to members of the local peasant elite: for example, the land market was administered through elected bailiffs. There is no evidence of late survival of the incidents of serfdom, although entry fines on admission to land were relatively high. At Brigstock, notably, the court continued to be used as an effective forum for inter-peasant litigation to the end of the fifteenth century. On the gentry and priory manors, although 4ttempts to prevent the emigration of the unfree were unavailing, customary tenants remained subject to burdens such as labour services, heriot and the maintenance of redundant buildings. On such manors tenants had largely abandoned the court as a forum for litigation by 1450. Irrespective of lordship, peasants continued to owe suit, undertake office and assent to by-laws regulating agriculture and social behaviour. Customary tenure remained subject to the court. Particularly where view of frankpledge was exercised through the manor court, its range of business and impact on local people was largely undiminished by 1500

Publisher: University of Leicester
Year: 2004
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