Definition of a manor

PDA Harvey in Manorial Records gives three meanings of the word manor; "a residence", "a unit of estate administration" and "a piece of landed property with tenants over whom the landlord exercised rights of jurisdiction in a private court". It is the third definition which has been applied in compiling the Manorial Documents Register. Many of the secondary sources listed in the general bibliography provide further definitions. 

For the purposes of the Manorial Documents Register the definitive proof of the existence of a manor is the survival of records produced by the manorial court. The Manorial Documents Register is a register of the location of manorial records and its purpose is to guide users to the location of these records. The manor name information within the Manorial Documents Register is not designed to be a definitive list of all manors which existed but only records the names of manors for which documents were, or may have been, created in order to enable those documents to be entered on the Manorial Documents Register. Therefore, the lists of manors and manor names compiled should not be regarded as a definitive register of all manors that may have existed. The Manorial Documents Register records the existence of documents, not the existence of manors.

Definition of manorial documents

According to the Manorial Documents Rules, manorial documents are defined as "court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers, documents and books of every description relating to the boundaries, wastes, customs or courts of a manor" but they exclude "deeds or other instruments required for evidencing the title to a manor or agreements or draft agreements relating to compensation, or any documents which came into being after 31st December 1925".

For the purposes of the Manorial Documents Register and for the sake of users certain exceptions have been made to these rules:

  • records created by manor courts which continued to meet after 1925
  • estate rentals have been included where collection circuits continued to be organised by manor
  • records relating to compulsory enfranchisement and extinguishment of manorial incidents, both records held here and related correspondence and papers found in private archives
  • Parliamentary surveys

Therefore, the inclusion of a record in the Manorial Documents Register does not necessarily indicate that it is legally defined as a manorial record for the purposes of the Manorial Documents Rules.

Documents excluded from the Manorial Documents Register

  • Charters, grants, title deeds, leases and other conveyances relating to the title to the manor
  • Individual copies of court roll given to manorial tenants as evidence of title to a holding within a particular manor
  • Legal papers relating to disputes over the title to a manor
  • Records relating to estate or crown, rather than manorial administration including receivers and chamberlains accounts
  • Printed material including sale particulars

Lordship or Honour

An honour is an administrative unit based on a number of manors. The tenants of these manors owed suit to an honour court in addition to, or in place of, the normal manor court. The records produced by honour courts are manorial documents and are therefore included on the Manorial Documents Register. Not all manors were part of honours. The records of honour courts were normally kept on a manor by manor basis. Where possible honour documents which relate to individual manors have been entered under the name of each manor. This is indicated by the honour name appearing in brackets in the document descriptions.

An honour may also be known as a 'lordship', 'seignory' or 'barony'. The precise nature of these administrative units differed but, for the purposes of the Manorial Documents Register, the differences between them are considered marginal and they are treated synonymously. In the Manorial Documents Register for England they are referred to as honours and in the Manorial Documents Register for Wales as lordships.

Jurisdictions excluded from the Manorial Documents Register

Records of honour courts are manorial and are included in the Manorial Documents Register. An honour is an administrative unit based on a number of manors, the tenants of which owed suit to an honour court in addition to, or in place of, the normal manor court. 

Records of the following types of court (definitions taken from the Oxford English Dictionary) may be found in association with manorial records, especially those of honours. They are not manorial, however, and their records are not included in the Manorial Documents Register.

Hundred court
Court with jurisdiction over the Hundred, a unit of administration between shire and parish.

Wapentake court
Regional term for Hundred court used in: Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Leicester.

County court held twice a year and presided over by the sheriff. Sometimes known as great court leet of the county.

Forest court
Courts with jurisdiction over a woodland district usually belonging to the King.

Swainmote court
A type of forest court.

Portmote court
Borough court, especially cities and boroughs in the Palatine of Chester.

Portreeve's court
Court of a borough official.

Pie powder court
A summary court held at Fairs and Markets to administer justice among itinerant dealers and others temporarily present.

Borough courts
A town possessing a municipal corporation and special privileges conferred by royal charter. Some manors and boroughs may have been coterminous for most of their existence. It may not be possible to differentiate between the records of manors and boroughs of the same name. Records relating to borough courts leet have therefore sometimes been included. Other records, such as lists of burgesses, which may have been used for Parliamentary election purposes, have been excluded.