Series: English Manor Rolls • Et. Seq: The Harvard Law School Library Blog

852 Rare: Hands in Manor Rolls

This is the fourth in a series of five blogs about Historical & Special Collections’ English Manor Rolls (1305-1770). HSC was honored to have Eleanor GoerssPforzheimer Fellow ’17, with us to perform research on and enhance description of this internationally-important collection, including authoring these posts.

In the margins of Harvard’s manor court rolls, little hands point the way. Here is a selection:

Four samples of hands drawn on manor court rolls

(clockwise) Folder 10, Membrane B. Moulton (Multon), Norfolk; Folder 162, Membranes D, E, and O, Great Wishford, Wiltshire.

In the manor court, an inquest jury would be convened to gather evidence and pronounce judgment on a specific dispute. On occasion, they would refer back to the court rolls to find this evidence. Jury members or scribes drew pointing hands (sometimes called manicula or manicules) to note the cases under examination. With a little bit of flair, the hands give a sense of how the rolls were handled, unfurled, searched, and marked beyond the initial court session that they record.

Sometimes parchment tags and little hands mark important cases, for good measure:

Two images showing parchment flags attached to the manor roll as well as a hand drawn pointing to the case of note

Folder 162, Membranes G and H, Great Wishford, Wiltshire

  

Further reading:

Sherman, William H. “Toward a History of the Manicule” in Used Books Marking Readers in Renaissance England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

852 Rare: Feud in Wiltshire

This is the third in a series of five blogs about Historical & Special Collections’ English Manor Rolls (1305-1770). HSC was honored to have Eleanor GoerssPforzheimer Fellow ’17, with us last summer to perform research on and enhance description of this internationally-important collection, including authoring these posts. Stay tuned for more of what you’ll find, often unexpectedly, in this collection.

 

Here’s what a fourteenth-century English feud looks like, pieced together from court manor records. Warning: it involves blood.

Great Wishford, Wiltshire, Folder 162, Membrane HH (June, 1374)

Great Wishford, Wiltshire, Folder 162, Membrane HH (June, 1374)

The first entry in the section of the roll pictured above says that Gonne Brighamton, “unjustly and against the peace, drew blood from Margaret Conperes” [Gonne Brighamton iniuste et contra pacem traxit sanguinem de Margareta] and was fined four pence for it. In the next entry Walter Conperes and his wife Margaret bring a complaint against Gonne Brighamton for trespassing, saying that “she assaulted the said Margaret, who was beaten and badly handled against the peace, to damages of 50 s.” Gonne was fined three pence.

But we quickly learn that Margaret was not exactly a passive victim. The next two entries say: first, Margaret drew blood from the Gonne, and second that Margaret was fined for trespassing against Gonne, beating her and handling her badly, also for damages of 50 shillings.

In other words, Margaret and Gonne settled their bloody fight in court, loudly letting everyone know about it while also paying out a total of fourteen pence to the lord. An out-of-court settlement would have been much cheaper; in fourteenth-century Wiltshire the going rate for a “license of concord,” or permission to let charges drop, was only two pence!

852 Rare: How to Read a Manor Court Roll

This is the second in a series of five blogs about Historical & Special Collections’ English Manor Rolls (1305-1770). HSC was honored to have Eleanor Goerss, Pforzheimer Fellow ’17, with us last summer to perform research on and enhance description of this internationally-important collection, including authoring these posts. Future topics include what you’ll find, sometimes unexpectedly, in them.

Having resolved to attempt to decipher a medieval court roll, where do you begin? Well, at the top.

English Manor Rolls, 1283-1765. Folder 8. Moulton (Multone), Norfolk. Harvard Law School Library. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

The first line tells you where and when the court occurred, what type of court it is, and sometimes the name of the Lord. For instance, the top line of this roll in HSC’s collection reads: Multone Curia ibidem tenta die Sabbati proximam post festum de Corpore XPI Anno regni Regis Edwardi tercii a conquestum XXIX, which is: Moulton, court held on the Saturday after the feast of Corpus Christi, in the 29th year of the reign of Edward III. So this session occurred early in June of 1355. Calculating a date that makes sense to us requires having some reference resources on hand that tell us the years of Edward III’s reign and what the Christian feast dates were for that year. Here’s an online resource for that.

Just below the heading appears the names of those tenants who have “essoined” themselves. This means they have opted out of coming to court by paying a fee and designating proxies in their stead.

Then the proceedings of the session are listed. Here is an example of what an entry looks like:

English Manor Rolls, 1283-1765. Folder 8. Moulton (Multone), Norfolk. Harvard Law School Library. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Item presentat quod Johannes Bateman fecit dampnum in frumento domini cum vi bobus [The jury presents that John Bateman did damage to the Lord’s grain with six oxen]…”

You might have noticed that the court scribes used a radically abbreviated mode of writing: frumento = frō and domini = dm̄. You will also notice that many entries begin with words such as, “The jury presents…” This “jury,” anywhere from ten to twenty-four men selected from the attendees of the court, both presented and decided the cases. Each fine (marked with an M for misericordia) is recorded in the left margin. In this case, the fine amounts to 2 s (pence) and 3 d (shillings).

If this seems a bit challenging, don’t panic! There are plenty of resources with which to tackle court rolls. Here’s one of our favorites:

Stuart, Denis. Manorial Records: An Introduction to Their Transcription and Translation. Chichester, Sussex: Phillimore, 1992.

852 Rare: An Introduction to our English Manor Roll Collection

This is the first in a series of five blogs about Historical & Special Collections’ English Manor Rolls (1305-1770). HSC was honored to have Eleanor Goerss, Pforzheimer Fellow ’17, with us this summer to perform research on and enhance description of this internationally-important collection, including authoring these posts. Future topics include how to read the manor rolls and what you’ll find, sometimes unexpectedly, in them.

This summer, Harvard Law School Library’s Historical & Special Collections completed a multi-year project to conserve, digitize, and enhance metadata to our collection of manor rolls! Check out the newly updated finding aid, which includes links to digital content for the entire collection, plus corrected and enhanced information for each entry on each roll.

For those of you who aren’t longtime scholars of early English law, you’d be surprised at how much interest you might unknowingly have in the contents of a manor roll. So what follows is for you: the uninitiated but curious. We’ll explain what the finding aid is telling you, how to figure out what the text is about, and and muse on some fun visual treasures you might come across when using the collection.

The finding aid provides the name of the manor, county, type of roll, and date. Most are court rolls, but there are also documents related to manorial accounts, as well as charters, wills, and even a map.

 

Here’s a roll from a court session in 1517 at Haspley with Newbourne Manor in Suffolk. It is in box 8, folder 65 of HLSL’s collection. We chose to leave a margin around each shot so that the images show the irregularities of the rolls, staying as true as possible to the original material.

Here’s a roll from a court session in 1517 at Haspley with Newbourne Manor in Suffolk. It is in box 8, folder 65 of HLSL’s collection. We chose to leave a margin around each shot so that the images show the irregularities of the rolls, staying as true as possible to the original material. Head here for a zoom-able version!

 

The rolls give testimony for the realm of the medieval and early modern English manor court, a local court held by the Lord of a manor for his tenants. An English manor, a swath of territory held by a landlord, accommodated both free tenants who paid rent as well as unfree tenants (villeins) who occupied their land in return for their services to the lord. In medieval and early modern England, unfree tenants did not possess the right to file suit in royal courts, so the lord held his own court, usually in the hall of the manor house. The proceedings of each session were recorded on rolls. Despite the fact that these rolls provide only a terse listing of these court proceedings, a richer and richer picture of peasant life accumulates after reading through a few court sessions. The courtroom served as a space where the lord could control land transactions, but also where he might fine his tenants for damages to land and buildings, or for other infractions such as marrying without a license and milling grain at the wrong mill.

HSC’s collection contains records from a great deal of manors, each of which has its own way of holding court. Next time we’ll give tips on deciphering the rolls, but if you’re yearning to dig deeper now, here are some select resources on our court rolls and manor courts in general:

Professor Liz Kamali’s undergraduate thesis on Harvard’s rolls: Papp, Elizabeth Ann. “Moulton Manor and Its Court, 1306-1418: Crisis and Reaction in a Fourteenth-Century Manor.” 1997.

An introduction to the manor, its court, and historical methodologies: Razi, Zvi, and Richard Michael Smith. Medieval Society and the Manor Court. New York: Clarendon Press, 1996.

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