Placeholder Image 2

medieval

1066, The Norman Conquest. "OK lads, now we are here what shall we do?" "Let's build some big castles" comes from the back of the room. "Oh, and a big book with everything in it".

We got castles, 100 of them in 21 years. The Normans wanted no doubt in our minds who was in charge. Communities, churches and graveyards were all swept aside if they happened to be in the way of the castle. The ruling classes were changed, a new language introduced and the English nobility lost their lands. They must have been terrifying times for all concerned.

The Chivalric Code, the Age of Chivalry, all very noble and romantic, unfortunately the truth was somewhat different. Your average knight was a thug on horseback, a trained killer and opportunist. They had a code and spent most of their time looking for the loopholes. William Marshall was a cut above the average, he became extremely powerful and wealthy. He served no less than four kings and that would have taken a high degree of intelligence to survive during these times. The knights had a problem when they challenged another knight, the church taught that you shall not kill your fellow christian. What a relief when they found out that they could save Jerusalem and kill muslims as well in the form of the Crusades. Dark times indeed and a period in history that we have not been forgiven for in many muslim countries even today.

The Doomsday Book was completed by surveyors sent to all four corners of the kingdom and they noted everything down to the smallest landholdings. The feudal system was brought in from Normandy. It was a rather clever system (unless you were right at the bottom) and worked on a rewards for loyalty basis, a bit like Tesco Clubcard.

William granted land to his Tenants in Chief (barons and bishops) in return for providing knights to the army for forty days a year. These Tenants in Chief would grant land to the lords (knights) in return for their service. The knights in turn granted land to the peasants for their services and payments.

The peasant had a particularly hard time of it, the English overlord had been removed and a Norman master put in place. Village life was lived and worked in a state of near autonomy. With open fields surrounding each village requiring constant labour, there were dues and fines to be paid. Labour had to be given to the lord, well he wasn't going to do it himself was he? The lord had several tricks up his sleeve to increase his annual revenues. The "ban" was a monopoly on certain activities, the insistence that all grinding and baking was done by the lord. Such activities were resented so rigorous enforcement by the manor court was often required. Everything had a value, even dung, a valuable source of fertilizer. Land yields were much lower than today, three to one being typical. A family could need 30 acres to survive but some had as little as five, times were hard indeed.

The serf is often thought of as a slave but this would be wrong. A serf could attain a higher social status than any freeman within the village. A serf was bound to a lord for life, he could not leave the village or marry without the lords permission. However he could not be displaced if the manor changed hands, he could not be forced into military service and he was entitled to the lords protection.

As the feudal system developed the villagers would pay dues to the manor rather than offer labour and should the lord require labour a sliding scale of payment existed with the greatest payments being made during the busiest periods of the farming year.

Most villages had at least one road between them but these were only used for travel to fairs and markets, all at the discretion of the manor. Work did not take place on Sundays or any of the many Saint Days.

Click to Enlarge

Haiward Map of 1595

The lord was often absent from his manors and so needed trusted officials to run his estates, the steward, bailiff and the reeve. The stewards duty was to increase the lords property and stock "in an honest way" and to defend his rights and franchises. This was written by Bishop Robert Grosseteste (no sniggering at the back). A later treatise suggested that legal knowledge was of principle concern. The bailiff was the chief law officer and day-to-day business manager and therefore much closer to the villagers. The reeve was subordinate to the bailiff and, along with others, would be appointed annually often by the villagers themselves. The reeve would ensure that villagers reported for work promptly, see to the penning of the lords livestock and supervise the formation of plough teams amongst other duties. The reeve would need to be articulate, numerate with good management skills, obviously some peasants must have received a good education.