RURAL SOCIETY FROM THE CONQUEST TO THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY.

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a) Which historians have particularly specialised in the study of medieval agrarian history ?
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b) What kinds of contemporary sources are available for the study of medieval rural society ? How reliable are these sources ?
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c) What factors determined the character of English villages in the middle ages ? How were the open fields organised ? How did villages in pastoral areas differ from those in arable areas ?
Caryl Dane ----
The character of English villages was determined as much by their social structure as by their physical structure. Village society could consist of the lord of the manor (if he were resident) with his family, the lord's officers (reeves and bailiffs), the priest (if the village had a church), and a stratified peasant population of sokemen, villeins and cottagers, and until the early thirteenth century, some slaves.

Sokemen were freemen who paid cash or goods for the land they rented. In law, the villein was bound to the land and could not leave to farm elsewhere. He held a substantial plot in the village fields, but was also expected to work on the lord's land.

The cottagers had smaller plots of land and correspondingly owed lower rent in labour or goods.

In cases where the manor was built in the village, the lord set himself apart from the peasants in a house with its own farming lands. If the village had a church it was an outward and enduring sign of the lord's power and influence as he was likely to have paid for its construction.

How were the open fields organised?

In the midlands and over most of southern and eastern England, villages organised their farming communally in unenclosed and unhedged fields adjacent to the settlement, in which each family held allotted areas together with shares of meadowland and pasture on the common. A field was divided into long narrow strips, a furlong or a 'furrow long'.

The strips of land of every family were very scattered, ensuring a share of distant and near, and good and poor soil.

Evidence of the patchwork strip pattern of the mediæval fieldsystem survives today in Laxton, Nottinghamshire.

Crops were rotated to prevent exhaustion of the soil, either using a two-field system, in which land was fallowed and cropped in turn each year, or, so that only a third of the land was left fallow rather than half per year, a three-field cycle was adopted, particularly in the thirteenth century.

How did villages in pastoral areas differ from those in arable areas?

Few areas put sheep- or cattle-raising ahead of crop-farming. Even where the open, upland pastures of the Cotswolds were, for example, important for the maintenance of large sheep flocks, husbandry was still maintained as one of essentially arable cultivation, even when Cotswold wool was at a premium. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries common pasture was encroached upon by both peasant and demesne ploughing. In the few areas where pastoral farming did dominate, on poorer land, the dispersed hamlet and isolated farms existed practising a rundale, or infield-outfield system. The infield was close to the settlement and kept more or less in permanent cultivation by manuring. Outfield cultivation was the exploitation of grazing land far from the settlement which was only suitable for occasional cultivation, if at all.

  • Frances & Joseph Gies : Life in a Medieval Village
  • R.H.Hilton : A Medieval Society
  • Ralph Whitlock: A Short History of Farming in Britain
  • Trevor Rowley: The Making of Britain: The High Middle Ages 1200 - 1550
 
d) What sort of obligations did the medieval peasant have towards his lord ? How were these obligations determined ? How would you distinguish between free and unfree peasants? What other categories of people lived in medieval villages?
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e) How did the obligations of the peasant change during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries ? What is the significance of the controversy over the 'chronology of labour services'?
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f) How were medieval villages governed ? What was the role of the manor and the manorial lord in the village ? Who were the principal officials in village government, and what were their duties ?
Abigail Bryant ----
The method of government and management of medieval villages was dictated largely by the structure of the village and it's associated community. As it is discussed in previous sections the term 'village' is not one that is easily defined as they are infinite in their variety and have a natural lack of order. Taking this into consideration I will briefly discuss the means of government of what can be termed a traditional village, one with associated Manor and arable economy.

Through out the medieval period the rural society as a whole revolved around long established rules of custom and tradition and while they by no means ever enjoyed the freedom of autonomy, the ideas and basis of local government was quick to emerge and it can be said that the rural communities were ably to govern themselves without any direct involvement of the crown. 

It is important to view a village in the terms of a group of men diverse in wealth and status who lived together in a community. The idea of community is a significant part of social structure in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The functioning's of the local shire, hundred and wapentake courts relied on the turn out of the men in the village as they ultimately and this level performed the role of both judge and jury. They were in effect the living repositories of customary law with the Sheriff present merely to pronounce the judgement of the men. It is stated by the law writers of Henry I that 'the priest, the reeve, and the four best men' must turn out to represent the village. 

The word manor is one that is open to interpretation and this is the source of much misunderstanding. The word first appeared in the Domesday book as the Norman clerks noted the existence of substantial houses in association with villages, implying that a man of local consequence lived there. In it's strictest most technical form it is an administrative agricultural unit which could vary greatly in size. It is well accepted that generally it had it's own Manorial court which dealt primarily with the settlements of disputes between peasants that held land on the manor and with matters that directly concerned the running of the unit by the lord's Bailiff. It is likely that these proceedings took place in the lords 'moot hall' as the Manor house itself was not necessarily in the vicinity of the area. Manorial law itself was only concerned with affairs of the Manor and was not recognised as an official form of law, although it was the system under which the majority of medieval men lived.

The management of a Manor was carried out by manorial officials employed to work on behalf of the lord. Namely the Bailiff and the Reeve. The principle difference between these two officials was that the Bailiff was a salaried employee and the Reeve invariably was not. The Bailiff jobs included collecting rents for the landlord and other administrative responsibilities including the general overseeing of agricultural and pastoral affairs, often on more than one Manor. The Reeve was similar in function but invariably servile in status, an unfree tenant obliged to serve his lord because he held a servile tenancy, and instead of being paid a wage he was released from labour service or granted a piece of property. A typical duty of a Reeve would be to make sure that farm servants were up in time for their work, that the land was properly ploughed, that the lord's sheep were being cared for properly, he also had to deal with the end of year accounts for the manor, the list of responsibilities is quite endless. It was hard work for a part time temporary, amateur farm manager!

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A.H.N.Bryant hiu68a@bangor.ac.uk 

 
g) What duties were expected of the knights in the eleventh and twelfth centuries ? How did these duties change ? What consequences followed from the 'ruralisation' of the knights ?
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h) What duties were expected of the higher nobility in this period? How did the higher nobility differ from the knights? How were their lands and estates administered ?
Jonathan Eastwood Ben White
After the battle of Hastings in 1066, William rewards his barons for their service to him with lands from England, which they have just conquered. Which the Barons then in turn need to pay the men who served under them during the war. And so it was left to the Barons to deal with any settling in problems that would occur with the locals. The higher nobility then was expected to administer and keep the peace in the land that they had received.

But the King enacts a price of service upon the land that he gives away, which the Barons have to allow him to do as they need the land he will give to satisfy the men under them. So the Barons have to supply him with a certain amount of knights. In some ways it can be seen that this is one of the reasons why the Doomsday book was commissioned, as it gives a detailed inventory of what everyone has, and so a relative service charge can then be placed on the land the Baron has just received from the king.

To be a knight you had only to have the ability of being able to fight on horse back, and be young enough and strong enough to bare arms. So in essence at this early date anyone could be a knight; the local population did not look upon them as special but as Cruhtas, serving youths, retainers. For they were in the employ of the Barons to serve them and to for fill their land duty to the king. The knighted class did not establish itself straight away and differed from the higher nobility by not necessarily being of noble birth or indeed of noble inheritance, i.e. not being the first born. But also the fact that they are simply lower down in the feudal chain of command.

It was the knights who would deal with people of his Barons lands, they would in turn report, as it were, to their Barons, the Barons were then under the command of the King. And this was how England was administered, each baron having his own court which he would administer his territories from, all separate from the kings court. This would later split into smaller administering units so as to deal with their property better.

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J.P.Eastwood hiu42d@bangor.ac.uk 

They were required to provide a certain number knights or money equivalent under the feudal obligation. In the early Norman period the knights had little social standing. They were expected to be at their lordís beck and call. The regular work of the knight was to accompany his lord on his progresses and expeditions and perform miscellaneous duties. In a time of war he was required to campaign for at least two months and every year had to give 40 days to training and castle guard. The first holder inherited all the rights that the English holder had before him. He could acquire greater rights in the years after the conquest obtained through royal grant. 
I) What relationship did the countryside have with the towns in the eleventh and twelfth centuries ? Is it possible to discern any changes in this relationship during this period?


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JSI /20/10/99

School of History and Welsh History - University of Wales Bangor