Focus On Manorial Court Rolls
Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine|January 2018

Court rolls are useful for both researching the pre-industrial era and finding your Victorian ancestors, explains Nick Barratt

Nick Barratt

Certain historical dates stick in the mind. One of the most memorable is the battle of Hastings in 1066, when William of Normandy’s invading troops routed the Anglo-Saxons. King Harold was killed on the battlefield, along with many of his leading nobles. William took advantage to impose a new social order upon the country: a system of landholding that historians call feudalism.

The new king immediately claimed all lands as his own, with the exception of property in the possession of the Church. However, he also wished to reward his loyal followers, and did so by granting them some of this property; these families subsequently became the tenants-in-chief of the Crown and therefore the aristocracy. In turn, they too had followers to reward with land, thereby creating a hierarchical pyramid where everyone held land from an overlord (with the obvious exception of the monarch). The basic socio-economic land unit was known as a ‘knight’s fee’ – the amount of land required to generate sufficient income to support one knight for 40 days. Today we call this unit a ‘manor’.

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