Custom of the Manor – A Glossary: Steward

court document with money

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.

Custom of the Manor – A Glossary: Lord of the Manor

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

Custom of the Manor – A Glossary: Court Baron

A court baron was the principal civil court that was attached to every manorial estate.  The jurisdiction of the manor was said to exist only if the manor had such a court.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a court baron as an assembly of the freehold tenants of the manor presided over by the lord or his steward, and distinguishes it from the customary court, the court of copyhold tenants.

The Victoria County History makes no distinction between courts baron and customary, implying all tenants attended the same court.

Which is right?  A practical treatise on copyhold tenure provides helpful clarification, based on practices around 1800.  Although technically separate courts, in practice both were commonly held together and the proceedings entered in the same court rolls.  In a court baron, the freehold tenants acted as judges and jury, with the steward providing guidance.  In the customary court, the lord or steward served as judge.  As a  private court it was not bound by the Common Law, so cases were decided on the equity (fairness) of the case, or the local custom or rules.

Matters that the court baron or customary court dealt with were originally those concerned with the relationship between the lord and the manor’s tenants, as well as civil disputes between tenants.  These included the regulation of the manor’s customs, land tenure and use (e.g. agricultural practices), and enforcement of payment of dues and services owed by the tenants to the lord.  Over time the ancient powers of the court were eroded by other courts and institutions.  By the early 1700s only the functions relating to land tenure and transfer remained.  The 1922 Law of Property abolished manorial land tenure, so the last functions of the court baron ceased when it became law in 1926.

The legal Latin term for a court baron is curia baronis or curia parva.

© Sue Adams 2014