Villein into Copyholder

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Villein into Copyholder

By the end of the fifteenth century, the word "manor" no longer stood for a quasi-political unit of re1aionship between lord and tenant but merely for a means of exacting rent or tribute, as it had always been, e.g. in Kent. Another way of looking at this is to say that though villeinage was by no means extinct even in the reign of Elizabeth, it had already ceased to have real importance.

The average peasant (in so far as we can speak of such a person) at the end of the Wars of the Roses, was a free man. He might sue his lord in the King's court; he was no longer subject to labour services (except sometimes boonworks), to merchet, to chevage, to monopolies of mill or oven. Of course, there were various perquisites and rents in kind which still played a part in the relationship between lord and tenant, but they were not vitally important for either. The manor court was still held, presided over by the steward, and tenants were still fined for non-attendance But the business transacted there was the business of the village - recording land sales and purchases, enforcing common rules of husbandry, and so on.

The feudal, military and political aspect of the court had largely disappeared. The villein had become a customary tenant or copyholder, so called because his right to the land rested on the copy he held of the grant recorded in the manor court rolls and which he would show the lord's surveyors when they came to value the estate. This grant might be for life, for a number of lives, a fixed term of years, or more rarely "to him and his heirs forever".

It was always made according to the custom of the manor, which varied from place to place, and on which the tenant's security depended. The tenant might sell or give away his land to anybody he liked, subject to the lord's consent and the payment of a fine. He might leave- the manor if he wished to seek his fortune elsewhere; the apprenticeship of his son, the marriage of his daughter, were no longer legally his lord's concern, though no doubt in this case and other matters the lord had other means of making his influence felt. The peasant did not gain his personal freedom all at once in most cases, since this would have needed a formal act of manumission, of which but few are recorded.

There was, rather, a gradual withering away of the lords' rights, so that, by the end of the Middle Ages, the legal obstacles to a peasant's rising in the world had largely disappeared. Freeholders and copyholders alike had the chance, if times were good, to become rich; and many of them, especially in the South and East, did so. These were the farradin:, the yeomen of literature, the glory of Merry England.


What next? Tariffs And Foreign Competition.

The Decline of Demesne Farming

Direct farming under the supervision of a bailiff still continued on some ecclesiastical estates right up to the dissolution of the monasteries in the sixteenth century. But, more generally, the demesne was leased for a term of years. It might be leased in strips by the peasants, and become an indistinguishable part of their holdings; obviously, this need involve no alteration in the routine of common husbandry.

Or it might be leased as a whole (especially where it was compact) to a firrnarius or "farmer ". Sometimes the farmer was a peasant, who would often be assisted by the hire of stock and... see: The Decline of Demesne Farming


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