In the general sense, a steward is the senior officer of a household or one who serves at table. In, royal households, the term became associated with several official state duties. The manorial steward ran the legal and financial affairs of the manor.
As the primary official of the manorial courts, stewards were responsible for holding court sessions and keeping the court records on behalf of the lord. Acting as judge or legal advisor in the manorial courts required legal training. The steward was also responsible for overseeing the collection of dues, rents and services owed to the lord of the manor, and keeping the financial accounts of the manor.
The legal Latin term for a manorial steward is senescallus.
The lord of the manor was both the owner of the landed estate and governor of the jurisdiction that comprised the manor.
A lord of the manor is not a lord in the aristocratic sense. Holders of manors granted directly by the king were barons by tenure in early medieval times, but this title did not confer any privileges beyond those associated with the manor. The titles of baron created by writ or patent are unrelated to manorial tenure. So a lord of the manor is not a member of the House of Lords or the nobility unless they posses other additional titles.
The land and associated rights (e.g. mining, shooting) of a manor could be divided or cease to be part of the manor through a change in tenure or sale. The lordship of a manor could not be divided as it is vested in one person, the owner of the remaining manorial land. No new manorial rights could be created after the abolition of manorial tenure in 1925, and rights that have not been registered after 2013 may cease. (Source: Land Registry, Practice Guide 22-Manors)
In legal documents, the Latin word for the lord of the manor is dominus.
© Sue Adams 2014
The court leet was a criminal court and administrative institution that had a local geographical jurisdiction connected with a hundred, lordship or manor. The right to hold a court leet was granted by the king, often along with the property and jurisdictional rights of a manor. Consequently, many, but not all, manors had a court leet.
In the manorial context, the lord’s steward acted as judge and the jury were drawn from eligible people living within the manor. The ‘view of frankpledge’ identified members of a tithing, a company of householders (originally ten, later twelve) who took responsibility for law and order. The frankpledge system dates back to Saxon times. The records of the court leet were frequently kept in the same court rolls as the court baron and some manors held joint sessions for the two courts.
The court leet was restricted to trying cases of Common Law, developed by the courts rather than codified by statute. Criminal offenses are those against the crown, state or community, so include violence, theft and generally undesirable behaviour. As a local court, the court leet dealt with minor criminal offenses and the indictment or formal accusation of serious crimes, which were then prosecuted in a superior court. Legal scholars disagree on the court’s powers of punishment. Ritson asserts the court could imprison offenders, disagreeing with the influential Coke’s opinion that the court could only impose fines.
Administrative functions included the regulation of trade such as measures of bread and ale.
Although originally important, the court leet declined over centuries. Its jurisdiction was eroded by the establishment of new courts, especially the Quarter Sessions and magistrate’s courts, and codification of the law; and administrative functions passed to other institutions such as town boroughs. A few court leets still survive, but retain only ceremonial functions.
Legal Latin terms for the court leet are curia leta, curia magna (big court tries criminal cases), and curia cum visufranciplegii (court with a view of frankpledge).
© Sue Adams