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