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Manors of the Middle Ages

Manors of the Middle Ages were large tract estates (towns) for gentry and provided living quarters, land and retainers for lords and their families.

What Manors of the Middle Ages Included

Manors of the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, most people lived on a manor. Manors of the Middle Ages included the manor house, a church, the village, and all the surrounding land. The lord of the manor had control over all of this. Manors were agricultural estates and often included orchards, gardens, lakes or ponds, or woods, in addition to the farmland. Manors were mostly self-sufficient including specialized facilities such as a bakery, blacksmith, and mill.

A manor would sometimes have separate tracts of land, usually between 1200 and 1800 acres in size. In some of the larger ones, there might be more than one village. Every noble had a manor and some had several spread out through the country. Even the king had many manors to supply food for the court. Sometimes a manor was called a fief. That was land that was held by a vassal of a lord as payment for certain services, which were often militaristic in nature.

You may wonder how someone came into possession of a manor. A monarch granted land to nobles, bishops, and barons, who provided soldiers for his armies. Often, manors were given to knights as a reward for service, like a pension. It was a way for them to be supported. Some manors were granted based on military reasons to noblemen and knights, by a monarch or the Church.

People Who Lived on the Manor

The lord of the manor would conduct business from the manor house. The other people who lived on his manor were grouped into the following categories:

  • Bailiff - This person had many important managerial duties.
  • Reeve - An officiate of the manor who was either appointed or elected by the peasants.
  • Serf - Also a tenant, he worked the land and paid the lord dues for the use of the land. Sometimes the dues were to provide labor several days a week.
  • Peasant or Villein - This was a lower status tenant who was basically a farm laborer. Each was typically responsible for working 20 to 40 acres of land.
  • Cottager - A cottager was a low class peasant who had a cottage. However, he had no land and was a simple worker.
  • Servant - A servant was called a house peasant and worked in the manor house.

Life on a Manor

Lords had many duties and responsibilities. They had administrative duties for the manor, made judicial decisions, enforced taxes and tolls, protected their people and land, and minted money. In other words, they were the supreme ruler of their land.

Daily life for the lord, his family, and friends was good. They would dine on fare like meat, fish, beans, peas, cabbage, carrots, turnips, onions, bread, cheese, fruit, and assorted pastries. At a big celebration, there might have been a boar, swan, or peacock. The preferred drink was ale, which was barely fermented, and wine. Honey and fruit juice were used as sweeteners.

At the table, meat was cut with a dagger and food was eaten with the fingers from a hollowed out piece of bread, or trencher. Two people would usually share a trencher and one drinking cup. Whatever you did not want to eat was thrown on the floor for the dogs to eat.

Peasants, on the other hand, had a very hard life. Housing consisted of a hut with a dirt floor with no windows or chimneys. Livestock had to be kept inside at night so they wouldn't be stolen. A peasant's diet was porridge, black bread, cheese, and some vegetables.

Serfs had a hard life and were bound to the lord until the serf's death. They needed the lord's permission to marry and were actually little more than slaves. The only way they could gain freedom was to run away and stay away for a year and a day or receive a boon from the lord.