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The manor was part and parcel of feudalism, and we must have some idea of what feudalism meant if the manor is to be understood. It emerged gradually during the confused centuries following the break-up of the Western Roman Empire, and served to support the ruling and fighting class of Christendom. It can be described as a pyramidal society, with the King at the top, the common people at the bottom, and a hierarchy of lesser lords in between; each rank bound to those above or below it by mutual rights and duties. The King was ultimate and absolute lord of his realm ; no distinction was drawn in those days between a kingdom and a private estate, and he could dispose as he wished of-his subjects and lands. But he could not carry on the entire government himself, and he needed an army. He therefore made to others - the, most powerful and important of his followers - grants of land and of privileges, such as the right to administer justice, and to levy tolls and tribute, in certain areas. In returns they swore loyally to obey him and to provide him with soldiers in time of war; or, where the grant was made to the Church, to pray for his soul.

These greater vassals; as those who had sworn loyalty to' the King were called, attached smaller lords to themselves by the same process; or the initiative might come from below, by commendation. A free man, possessing land which he feared to lose in times of anarchy (such, for instance, as those of the Danish invasions of England in the ninth and tenth. centuries),, would commend himself to a lord. The lord would protect him from aggression, and he in return would become the lord's man, swearing to back him in his quarrels and to pay him dues in money or in goods and services. From top to bottom, those above owed protection and justice; those below in return owed loyalty and economic services. That was the theory of the thing. In practice it was all far more complicated; there were innumerable overlapping rights, and it was difficult - in the end, impossible - to fit the towns into the feudal structure. The Feudal System was only the tidy theoretical construction of lawyers; but throughout most of Western Europe it was the pattern to which the untidy reality was supposed to conform.

In England, before the Norman Conquest, a particularly untidy and unevenly developed form of feudalism had sprung up. Some villages already had a lord; in others different men might have different lords; and many men, particularly in the northern counties, owned no lord but theKing or his nominal representative the Earl. Personal obligations of loyalty, service and protection do not seem to have been bound up with the holding of land. The Normans, on the other hand, had a far more rigid and logical system; it was easier to develop such a structure in their Duchy, which was small, compact, and geographically much of a muchness. They began with the maxim nulle terre sans seignior - no land without a lord. There was no contracting out of their feudal pyramid; all Normandy belonged to the Duke, it was carved up into knights' fees, and then again into manors. The manor was the unit of the Norman feudal structure; it provided its economic basis, the means by which the governing classes got their livelihood.

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The Feudal Manor

At this point, however, the picture needs correcting in another respect.

It shows, so far, a number of free and equal families cultivating the soil communally but cultivating it for themselves, without being obliged to provide either work or money for anyone else except the King. Perhaps, if one went far enough back to the origins of the village, that picture would be fairly adequate; but by the eleventh century it would be badly out.

Even before the Norman Conquest most men had a lord, to whom they owed labour or rent; and with the Conquest we find the village merging into a new form - the... see: The Feudal Manor

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