Before the seventh century there was no privately-owned land, all land was owned by the king. Out of the dark and chaotic centuries that followed the withdrawal of the Romans a pattern of kingdoms had emerged. The most important were Kent, Sussex, Wessex, East Anglia, Essex, Mercia and Northumberland, the ‘Heptarchy’. Power depended on military force and Kings depended on personal loyalty from a military aristocracy. This loyalty by the King’s Lords was rewarded by grants of land so that wherever the King might be, he could rely on a local fighting force to support him. The coming of the Danes in the eighth and ninth centuries reinforced the need for a mobile, local fighting force loyal to the King. The Lords in their turn granted smaller parcels of land to their Theigns thus communal land became fragmented and owned by individuals.
By the eleventh century a single English Kingdom gradually emerged rooted in the dominance of the royal house of one of the existing kingdoms and these events had a direct effect at local levels. The period saw rising population levels, the growth of nucleated rural settlements and related field systems with a related infra-structure of taxes, services and rights. The Manor was born.
The Manor was the basic unit of feudal administration. A Baron as Tenant-in-Chief held land directly from the king and he might hold as many as 40 manors; in return he swore an oath of FEALTY to the king. The king had right of ESCHEAT whereby he could take the manor back at the lord’s death and demand a RELIEF to be paid by the heir to the property. The King could also demand AID for ransom or payment of a dowry and right of WARDSHIP if the heir was under-age. Those who have been watching ‘Ivanhoe’ will find this familiar.
The greatest right the king had was SCUTAGE, military service in exchange for land. Each manor was held for one Knight’s Fee, that is it was big enough to support one fighting knight, his retainers and servants. This was to provide an army when the king needed it. The Domesday survey recorded two such manors in Thriplow, one, The Bury, held by the Abbot of Ely, and one, Barentons, held by Geoffrey de Mandeville, one of William’s Barons. Bacon’s Manor was probably held from the Bury (the name first appears in fourteenth century).
The tenant-in-chief let out his lands to his own retainers in return for services and so on down the line. By the thirteenth century this system of SUBINFEUDATION had become so complicated and unwieldy with men owing allegiance to several land owners at the same time that military service became commuted to cash payment with which the king could hire mercenaries, though they had to be Freemen as unfree peasants did not have the right to bear arms.
THE WORKINGS OF THE MANOR
In 1279 Edward I ordered a national survey more detailed than Domesday, The Hundred Rolls, it includes the names of the holders of the manors, their rights and services, all the retainers are named and how much land they hold and the services they have to perform in return for their land and houses. The lower the rank of the peasant the more work he had to do for the lord, ploughing, sowing, reaping, mowing, carting wood and digging ditches. He had to pay a fine on entering into his land at the death of his father, Gersuma: a Heriot or his best beast was taken by the lord when he died: he had to pay a fine if his daughter married, Merchat: and if she became pregnant before she was married he had to pay Lerwite. If he wished to leave the manor he paid Chevage, and if he did not turn up at the Manor Courts he was fined for that too. The lord of the manor had power of life and death over his peasants, he owned the gallows and could hang anyone found committing a crime within his domesne and confiscate his belongings, though having said that the main punishment was usually a fine.
THE MANOR COURTS
There were two types of manorial court: The Court Baron and Court Leet.
THE COURT BARON was held every 3 – 6 weeks and dealt with mainly civil jurisdictions – inheritance of land, trespass by beasts, non-payment of dues, cutting timber, blocking water-courses, dumping dung in front of another mans house, marrying or leaving the village. A Homage or Jury made up of villeins of the manor would swear allegiance and present any business to the lord’s steward. Fines would be levied or days set aside to deal with offenders. The clerk would write all this down on a sheet of parchment and these sheets would be sown together and rolled up, latin was the official language used until it was changed to English in 1733.
THE COURT LEET was a criminal court and was held twice a year, the lord of the manor had View of Frankpledge, this was a means of self-policing by grouping the men into Tythings or groups of 12 men over the age of 12 years who pledged each others good behaviour. The sheriff of the county had twice a year to ensure that the Tythings were intact and as usual received a fee for this from the men. If a crime was committed the men had to raise the ‘Hue and Cry’ and chase the criminal as far as the parish boundary where the ‘Hue and Cry’ would be taken up by the tything in the next parish.
THE HUNDRED COURT
This was a meeting attended by all the freemen of the Hundred, originally held out-of-doors at a common meeting place, the Moot, Mutloe Hill between Newton and Thriplow gives a clue to its whereabouts. By the sixteenth century it had been replaced by the Quarter Sessions.
The earliest manor court records for Thriplow date from 1633 though there are some dated 1576 in the Public Record Office in London. By this time there were three manors in Thriplow, and although Pittensaries was called a manor there seem to be no court records for it. By this time all services of work had been commuted to rent, though the land owner retained the privilege of owning all the timber trees. On first reading these court minute books the language seems incomprehensible; words such as messuage, appurtenances, surrender, to the use of his will, by the rod, customary tenant, copyhold, craves admittance, he hath payed his fyne and made fealty, yet once these are understood a fascinating picture of land tenure emerges.
It must be remembered that up to very recently nearly all property was rented, only a privileged few actually owned the land on which they lived. In medieval days there were two types of tenant, FREE tenants payed rent but owed no services, and COPYHOLD tenants who owed both, they were the descendant of the villeins and held their land by copy of court roll. They would swear fealty or loyalty to the lord who would hold his rod of office out to the tenant who would grasp it as prove of his loyalty. When he died the land reverted to the lord who could let the heir inherit the property and become his tenant on payment of a fine. A way of not paying the fine was for the copyholder to surrender his property to the lord, to the use of his (the villeins) will. The copyholder could also surrender (sell) his land to another person just as one can sell a leasehold property today. There were two kinds of surrender, ABSOLUTE which was outright selling of the copyhold and CONDITIONAL which was a way to raise cash using the copyhold as security. This was one of the ways by which the Ellis family gradually came to own two thirds of the whole village of Thriplow.
Copyholds were abolished in 1935 and many copyholds became freehold. Manor Courts lasted until 1955 when Lordships of Manors suddenly became the fashionable thing to be and many were sold for large sums of money although they conferred no legal rights. The last court held in Thriplow was at Barentons in 1937. It is these Manor Court Records, more than any other record that gives the clue to the history of the old houses in the Village.