During the Middle Ages, economic life centered on the manor. Lords
received manors from kings and other lords in return for military
service. A manor consisted of the lord's house; cottages for his
tenants; a church, mill, and workshops; and woodlands, fields, and
pastures. Most of the tenants were serfs bound to the manor for
life. Other tenants, called villeins, were legally free but
subject to the authority of the lord.
Each villein had
a contract with his lord spelling out his rights and duties.
Eventually lords wrote these contracts down in account books so that
everyone would know what the duties were. An example of such an
account book follows:
Cayworth [villein] holds from his lord one house and thirty acres
of land. For his right to this land, he must pay the lord two
shillings a year at Easter and Michaelmas. At Christmas he must
give the lord one cock and two hens worth four shillings.
He must harrow
[cultivate] the lord's land for two days during Lent at sowing time with
his own horse and harrow. He receives from the lord each day that
he harrows three meals.
He must carry the
manure of the lord's animals for two days using his own two oxen.
He receives from the lord three meals each day that he carries the
He must carry
wood from the lord's forest to the manor house for two days in
summer. He receives from the lord three meals each day that he
John of Cayworth
may not allow his daughters to marry without the consent of the lord or
the lord's bailiff. Neither may he permit his sons to enter the
clergy without the lord's consent. He may not cut the timber
growing on his land without the consent of his lord or the bailiff, and
then only for the purpose of building.
After his death,
his survivors will pay to the lord the best animal that he had, unless
he has no living beast, and then the lord will receive no payment.
And if his sons
or daughters wish to continue holding his house and thirty acres after
his death, they must make a payment to the lord equal to the entire rent
for one year, and continue paying the rent as set down in this contract.