Non-Manorialism in Medieval Cornwall

Non-Manorialism in Medieval Cornwall

By John Hatcher

The Agricultural History Review, Vol. 18, No. 1 (1970)

Introduction: The almost infinite variety of manorial structures to be found in medieval England is a commonplace, and it is equally well known that even in the most highly manorialized regions there were frequent deviations from the so-called classical manor, with its large demesne, predominance of villein land, and ample supplies of compulsory labour. Nevertheless, despite the manifold variations and departures from the classical manor, over most of thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century England the essential elements of manorialism and rural feudalism are clearly perceptible. Yet for a small number of regions one might argue that rural conditions differed so widely and in so many fundamental respects from the accepted norm that they should not be called ‘manorialized’. Of course any definition of the elements essential to manorialism, and their relative proportions, mast be open to criticism; but however loose the definition, the structure of the seventeen Cornish manors of the Earldom and later the Duchy of Cornwall is likely to contravene more than one of its premises. At the turn of the thirteenth century, when records of these manors commence, there was no direct exploitation of demesnes and little to suggest that such exploitation had ever been of great importance. There were no open fields and no indication that they had ever existed/and there were no common pastures. Furthermore, and perhaps most significant of all, instead of the customary division of tenants into free, villein, and cottar, Duchy tenants were divided into free, conventionary, and villein (nativi de stipite). In fact, the bulk of the Duchy’s tenantry held land by conventionary tenure, which did not mean hereditary tenure and rents and obligations regulated by custom, but a seven-year lease at a free market rent with negligible services and no renewal as of right.

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