Manorialism – where did it all begin?


Some of you may have heard the term ‘Lord of the Manor’, and ‘Manorialism’  in this two part blog we explain the realities of these titles and their importance in English history.

The title ‘Lord of the Manor’ derives from a piece of land legally called a manor.  Owning a manor gave certain rights one of which was the title ‘Lord of the Manor’.  There is confusion over there origin, with some claiming that lordship titles date back to 1066 and were set up by William the Conqueror.  This is incorrect as it was the Romans who first created the use of titles relating to land ownership.  It was back in the first century BC that the Romans invaded Britain.  The film industry tends to portray the Romans as invaders however they never explain why the Romans had such a large empire.  The answer is simple it was to generate wealth from these annexed countries.  This was done by taxation.

As most of us know the Romans were a highly developed race and introduced efficient ways of undertaking the collection of taxes among other things.  Instead of collecting tax off of every land owner they decided to appoint one person with the responsibility to not just pay their own tax but also for others within a given area.  This innovation reduced the labour involved in tax collection many fold.  The appointed person had the responsibility of collecting a level of tax from the other land owners under his responsibility.  The reality was that the “seigniory” as he was to become known would charge more than his Roman masters wanted in order to cover the cost of collecting the taxes, and to give him a profit.  So whilst the farmers owned their farms the ‘seignior’ also had an overriding right granted by the Romans.  If a farmer was not forthcoming with his taxes his farm could be seized and granted to another.  Over time the person who was responsible for the taxes was regarded as a very important person in their area.  Whilst all professions come with a name, the role of Roman tax collector served two purposes, firstly denoting the profession but also to represent the authority and power they wielded.  This early term of ‘seignior’ now translates to our modern term of lord.

The framework of managing the taxation of land set up by the Romans continued after their withdrawal from Britain in the fourth century.  The Saxons took over the country and had the same issue as the Romans of collecting taxes in the most effective way possible.  The Saxons were nowhere near as sophisticated as the Romans and they therefore retained the system set up previously.  There is also some evidence that the actual estates that Britain had been divided into were also retained by the Saxons.  A popular saying now is, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ was just as appropriate back in the fourth century and the Saxons left a working system alone.

In 1066 the Saxons lost Britain to the Normans who invaded under the leadership of William the Conqueror.  He once again kept the same system and estates as the Romans, but as the Normans were more sophisticated than the Saxons they changed and improved the system.  William introduced a management structure called feudalism.  Instead of having thousands of lords paying taxes directly to the Crown he appointed Barons to manage groups of lords and their manors.  Some of the Barons dealt with the Crown direct but many were subordinate to an Earl who would have an assigned county.  As with the introduction of the ‘seigniories’ by the Romans each layer of management would be responsible to the Crown for a level of taxation, but what was charged to their subordinates was higher in order to generate income to cover the costs of tax collection and to give a profit.

The manorial and feudal systems lasted through to the 20th Century however their decline started as early as the 13th century.  Whilst the systems are no longer required the titles that assisted in the operation of them have not changed.  When the titles were first created in law they were made to be continuous and legislation has never changed this.  Whilst they no longer support the taxation process they are a key part of English history.

Whilst most lordships have lost their proof of ownership (you need a complete, correctly executed and concurrent set of deeds from the time the Crown granted the lordship title or Time Immemorial – 1189 whichever is earliest) and therefore their rightful owners.

Manorial Counsel research and identify Lordship and Barony Titles that have not been used for many hundreds of years as the legal entity of the manor has long been broken up, as such there is no proof of ownership, meaning the title can then be re-introduced through our exclusive legal process.

In our next blog we will discuss the history surrounding lordship titles and manorial law.