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manorial courts

manorial courts. After the Norman Conquest the system of feudal landholding required the lord of the manor to provide a court for his tenants. Such ‘seigneurial’ courts were the court of the honour and the court baron, for free tenants, and the court customary for unfree tenants or villeins. The court of the honour, the principal manorial court, soon fell into disuse. The court baron was attended by all free tenants who were both its suitors and its judges. It decided questions of tenure, the fulfilment or non-fulfilment of feudal services, the payment of feudal dues, and disputes between free tenants of the same lord. The court customary (or hallmoot) was the court for unfree tenants or villeins and was presided over by the lord's steward or bailiff. It decided matters relating to performance or non-performance of feudal services and also disputes between unfree tenants (e. g. debts and minor assaults) and tenants who held by unfree tenure. It also ensured that the agricultural services and land use necessary to the proper upkeep of the manor were duly performed. The lord would frequently have the franchise to hold the local hundred court to take the view of frankpledge and to hear minor criminal cases, such as assaults, nuisances, and breaches of the Assizes of Bread and Ale. This court leet was also therefore a ‘manorial’ court, though its jurisdiction arose not from the feudal relationship per se, but from royal grant.

Eventually the distinctions between the seigneurial courts and the courts leet became blurred; the court baron faded into oblivion and the court customary survived as a court for free and unfree tenants alike. This court and the court leet were both held by the lord's steward in the same place, traditionally the hall of the manor. The manorial courts had declined by the 15th cent., but many of the courts leet survived as the basis of new towns and local government.

Maureen Mulholland

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