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Understanding Common Record Types: Manorial records

Guide to understanding common types of archive documents: abstracts of title, accounts, annual reports, charters & letters patent, constitutions, diaries, household books, land deeds, letters, manorial records, maps & plans, minutes, photographs, & wills.

Introduction to manorial records

Court records relating to legal and administrative process at a local level.

Why they were created

Created for purposes of recording management of local affairs and customary regulations within the manor structure.

Who might have created them

Created by the chief tenants of the manor.

Where you might find them

Usually found amongst estate papers. Commonly found in the following collections:

  • Solicitors
  • Landed families
  • Land agents
  • Estates

Period from which they most commonly survive

Commonly survive from the medieval period into the 19th century.

Key features

Physical features

  • Parchment and ink
  • Manuscript writing
  • Prior to the 16th century, recorded in roll format
  • Recording in book format was increasingly common from the 16th century

Informational content

  • Date of court sessions, sometimes recorded using Christian feast days rather than numerical dates
  • Type of court being held
  • Name of lord of the manor, or official presiding over the court
  • Names of jurors
  • Names of those sending excuses for non-attendance
  • Presentments, i.e. cases heard and dealt with
  • Details of property rights and holding
  • Fines and punishments issued in cases of minor disputes, debts, theft or petty assault
  • Allocation of agricultural land and names of individual tenants
  • Surrender of and admittance to copyhold land
  • Names of local officials and appointments to office
Manuscript list of rents due from named occupants of farms in Sancton at Michaelmas 1672

U DDLA/22/5

Rental of Sancton, showing rents due and by whom, 1672

Manuscript list of jurors and officers of the manorial court with a record of a judgement made by the court and a list of persons presented for various infringements of manorial customs

U DDCB/5/8

List of amercements issued in the manor of Cherry Burton and judgement as to heir of deceased widow, 2 Oct 1716

Manuscript list of persons presented for specified infringements of manorial customs, with amounts fined

U DDLA/23/1(2)

List of presentments amerced by a jury for the manor of Sancton, 6 May 1663

Manuscript list of persons given fines for specified infringements of manorial customs with amounts fined

U DDLA/23/1(3)

List of amercements issued by a jury for the manor of Sancton, 26 May 1664

Note on critical analysis

Things to consider:

  • Manor courts were the lowest of the Medieval English courts and related to small geographical areas, as such the business dealt with was local
  • Decisions made by these courts were determined by manorial custom, which might differ slightly between manors and regions, as such, it may not always be possible to draw direct comparisons between two separate manors
  • The chief authority in a manorial court came from the lord of the manor, which allowed significant room for an individual to exercise their own will, albeit within the bounds of established manorial custom
  • Manor courts were established in part to deal with local disputes, settlement of debts, cases of petty theft and minor assaults, judgements of which were recorded in documents created by manor courts
  • As a result, research using manorial court records could lead us to make evaluations emphasising the contentious nature of manorial societies
  • Manorial records were not created to record local societies as a whole, only society as it intersects with the business of the manor court, so naturally, harmonious community relations are not recorded in these records

Potential research uses

Manorial records can be useful when undertaking research into the following areas:

  • Property holding and land occupation on a local level
  • Enforcement of manorial customs
  • Petty disputes and mechanisms for the maintenance of community harmony
  • Agricultural land management
  • Social hierarchies and local societies

Specialist skills and knowledge

Further reading in the following areas will help researchers when using these sources:

  • Common manorial customs
  • Latin, for early rolls
  • Secretary hand, or mixed Secretary and Italic writing
  • Key Christian feast days

Resources at Hull History Centre

Search for further examples of manorial records using our online catalogue. Try using search terms such as manorial roll, rental, presentments, amercements, etc. Alternatively, try searching using the name of a specific manor in which your are interested.

Alternatively, if you prefer to browse, the file below contains a list of manorial records held at Hull History Centre. Please note that this list is not comprehensive, but represents key examples of the document type.