Warranty and good lordship in twelfth century England

Warranty and good lordship in twelfth century England

Hyams, Paul (California Institute of Technology University of Oxford)

California Institute of Technology, January (1986)


Already in the twelfth century, men canvassed different views on the ways in which they thought lordship ought to be exercised. They used their picture of how an idealised “Good Lord” — a familiar label in later times — comported himself to assess the treatment they actually received from their lords. This Good Lordship had both Positive and Negative aspects: the “good lord” maintained his vassals in their honours and renounced his right to revoke grants afterwards. One excellent way to study the pursuit of this double ideal is through the language of charters, more particularly through the warranty clauses by which Good Lordship was often implemented. The transformation of warranty into its familiar Common-Law shape reflects corresponding and complex changes in both lord-vassal relations and the role of the King and his justice.

Warranty actually began as a security device, designed to keep men to their word, and is found used in this sense over wide areas of sub-Carolingian Europe. It was probably imported to England by the French, and can be seen in twelfth-century charters progressively superseding other forms of words to become the classic “guarantee” of Good Lordship. In this manner it carne by 1200 to be virtually equated with the lordship it had originally been used to enforce. Warranty was lordship seen from the vassal’s point of view, that is, tenant-right. Despite this origin in very personal relations, warranty probably always created between the parties’ heirs some kind of obligation, which sharpened and was made infinitely more clear-cut with the emergence of full legal inheritance rights. Warranty swelled to full tenant-right, 8 full guarantee of the Right to Good Lordship.

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