villein

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villein was the term used to describe a peasant in a state of serfdom—i.e. subject to a lord and under obligation to perform labour services. The term ‘villanus’ was used in Domesday Book without any derogatory flavour to indicate persons who lived in ‘vills’—and therefore formed the largest social class. Though not free men, they were above the bordars and cottars who held less land, and well above the slaves, who had been numerous in Saxon England. But the term is not precise and status and duties varied from manor to manor, region to region, and over time. There was very little villeinage in Kent, in the old Danelaw, most of the north, and parts of the west. Villeins on crown estates were likely to have more privileges. As royal justice developed, the status of villeins sank, since they had no access to royal courts and could not serve as jurors. There were several ways in which they could escape from villeinage—by purchasing freedom from the lord (commutation); by escaping to a town for one year and one day; by taking holy orders (with the lord's permission). By the end of the 14th cent. villeinage was clearly disintegrating, villeins changing their status to that of copyholders.

J. A. Cannon

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vil·lein / ˈvilən; -ˌān/ • n. (in medieval England) a feudal tenant entirely subject to a lord or manor to whom he paid dues and services in return for land.

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villein in medieval England, a feudal tenant entirely subject to a lord or manor to whom he paid dues and services in return for land. The word is recorded from Middle English, and is a variant of villain.

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villein (hist.) see VILLAIN.
So villeinage XIV. — AN., OF. vilenage, medL. villenagium.

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