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Court Baron/Customary Records (Manorial & Medieval) (Land & Property)

Nature of Source

Manorial court rolls relate to two type of courts, one the Court Leet and the other the Court Baron. Each had separate jurisdiction, governing distinct areas life on the manor. However, the lines of jurisdiction blurred over the years and often one court sitting would deal with matters previously dealt with by the separate courts. The records originate from the assembly of freehold and copyhold tenants. The courts dealt with copyhold issues, surrenders and transfers of land, inheritance, common land management and offences against the customs of the manor. These offences were presented by the homage or jury and were usually of a trivial nature and could be dealt with at a local level. The Court Baron declined as the power of the lord of the manor weakened.

Copyhold issues were dealt with by the court by approving changes to tenancy agreements which authorised the transfer of property to a named heir following the death of the original copyholder or the transfer or sale/surrender from one tenant to another. The names, pieces of land and payments due to the lord were entered into the court rolls with a copy held by the tenant, hence copyhold. The document probably represented the most important document in the possession of a customary tenant. Usually the eldest son was proclaimed as the rightful heir, although in some areas the custom was to pass property to the youngest son. This chain of land transfer and surrenders and the accompanying documentation provide much of genealogical value. Lengthy investigations could take place seeking to establish a rightful heir and sometimes an extract from the deceased copyholder’s will was entered into the court roll. If the transfer of land involved a widow’s remarriage, the details will be entered in the court rolls. The actual marriage date will not be recorded although the marriage will have taken place around the time of the transfer.

The jury or homage were sworn in at the sitting and acted as the jury and witnesses. A person who served on the jury was probably a prominent person within the manorial hierarchy. He was likely to have been a freeholder of the franklin or yeoman class. A franklin was rated above the rank of a yeoman in the manorial hierarchy. A person of such a standing could appear in the records of the Heraldic Visitations or be named as a manorial official such as the reeve or bailiff.

The manorial documents relate to an insular world of the manor in which the lord of the manor exercised almost complete authority over his tenants in a single administrative unit within an estate. It must be remembered that a manor might spread beyond a contained area and could include lands not geographically connected and that manorial boundaries do not necessarily exactly map the parish boundary.

The court was held every three weeks with the records written in Latin until 1734 which generally follow a set format with standard phrases. The opening of the court began with the roll call, noted in the call book, of those present and those with a valid excuse or essoin. The roll call noted those that had died since the last roll call which should provide an approximate date of death. The Presentments to the court included death announcements which show the actual or approximate date of death and note the name of the son and heir. The Court Baron eventually combined the activities of the Court Customary.

Other miscellaneous records covering the workings of the manor could include rent rolls, presentments, manor accounts, minute books, estreat rolls, suit rolls, call books, maps, steward's papers, surrenders, fine books. Many of these documents will at least provide evidence of a person's location at a particular time. Some of these documents are sometimes incorporated into court rolls and surveys. After the Reformation the most important manorial function was dealing with property occupancy. The history of a manor can also be found in the Victoria County History series which may also indicate the whereabouts of surviving documents.

Also see
Court Leet Records
Estate & Family Records
Land and Property Records including Title Deeds
Maps & Gazetteers

Where Found

County Record Offices (Manorial records including court rolls. ARCHON Directory: Find the details of a UK archive from a searchable list of over 2,500 archives The catalogue can be found on the TNA Discovery home page)
The National Archives (The Manorial Documents Register. The Manorial Documents Register identifies the nature and location of manorial records. To access the catalogue, click on ‘Advanced Search’, then click on ‘Record Creators’ and select ‘Manor’ from the dropdown list)
British Library (Manorial court rolls)
Lambeth Palace Library (Records from church owned estates)
Parliamentary Archives (Archives of the House of Lords)
Bodleian Library (The Bodleian Library is the main research library of the University of Oxford with their holdings including estate records, deeds, rolls and maps. Their activities can be followed on Facebook and Twitter)
Other corporate bodies
Private collections

Period Covered

1280 - 1922

Genealogical Value

Names, dates of death and marriage, family relationships, occupation, status, address. Roll calls name those that died since the last court sitting and presentments include deaths of copyholders with the names of heirs.

Further References

Bailey, Mark. The English Manor c.1200 - c.1500: Manchester University Press, 2002 (Preview available from Google Books)

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Bennett, H.S. Life on the English Manor: A Study of Peasant Conditions 1150-1400: Cambridge University Press, 1937 Buy Now on Amazon

Chambers, Paul. Medieval Genealogy: How to Find Your Medieval Ancestors: Sutton, 2005

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Durie, Bruce. Documents for Genealogy & Local History: The History Press, 2013

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Ellis, Mary. Using Manorial Records: Public Record Office, 1997

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Franklin, Peter. Some Medieval Records for Family Historians: FFHS, 1994

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Harvey, P.D.A. Manorial Records: British Records Association, 1999

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McLaughlin, Eve. Manorial Records: McLaughlin, 1996

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Oates, Jonathan. Tracing Your Ancestors from 1066 to 1837: Pen and Sword Books, 2012

Palgrave-Moore, Patrick. How to Locate and Use Manorial Records: Elvery Dowers, 1985

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Park, Peter. My Ancestors were Manorial Tenants: Society of Genealogists, 2002

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Stuart, Denis. Manorial Records: An Introduction to Their Transcription and Translation: Phillimore, 2005

Westcott, Brooke. Making Sense Of Latin Documents For Family And Local Historians: Family History Partnership, 2014 Buy Now on Amazon

Winchester, Angus J. L. and Straughton, Eleanor A. Sources in Local History: Finding and Using Manorial Records: The Local Historian, 2007

TNA Research Guides:
Manors: further research
Using the Manorial Documents Register and how to find manorial lordships

Websites (Guide to manorial records) (TNA Guide: Looking for records of a manor) (Medieval Glossary) (Manorial Glossary) (Manorial Glossary) (Manorial Glossary from the Manorial Document Register) (Glossary of Manorial Terms from the Manorial Society of Great Britain) (Feudalism. The site includes a Feudalism Pyramid showing the hierarchical structure of feudal society) (Some Notes on Medieval English Genealogy) (Foundation for Medieval Genealogy : The Foundation was established in 2001 by a group of British genealogists and historians with a special interest in the medieval period. The Library Catalogue provides a bibliographic catalogue of secondary source material for medieval genealogy and heraldry) (Legal Terms in Land Records)
Manorial Records (Guide from the Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service)
English Manorial Court Records as a Source for Eighteenth- and Nineteenth Century Families, by Cecil . Humphery-Smith (Types of manorial record) (Life in a Dorset Manor: This pack studies the lives of ordinary people from medieval times up to the twentieth century, through the activities of the manor)

Online Databases

Online Catalogues (Listing of online catalogues for the partial whereabouts of records including Access to Archives [A2A], National Register of Archives [NRA])
Manorial Documents Register (Partial whereabouts of records) (Court Rolls of the Honor of Clitheroe in the County of Lancaster, 1377-1567 in partnership with Anguline Research Archives)
(University of Sheffield: Conisbrough Court Rolls. Conisbrough was one of the important royal manors of Yorkshire. The Court Rolls provide a unique account of the working lives and relationships of its inhabitants. Discover the historic workings of a manor and learn more about Conisbrough and how its past has contributed to its present) (Durham University Library: Family and Local History Records: Bishopric and Cathedral Estates, 16th-20th centuries. Manorial records from the estates and manors in County Durham and Northumberland as well as in Allertonshire and some other parts of Yorkshire. The records include the property transactions of leasehold and copyhold tenants)

CD Roms

Anguline Research Archives (Sheffield Manorial Records; The Court Leet Salford, 1597-1669; Court Leet Records the Manor of Manchester, 1586-1602; Manchester Court Leet Records; Elkstone its Manors, Church and Registers)
S & N Genealogy Supplies (Court Rolls of the Manor of Hornsey, Middlesex, 1603-1701)