Most women were chattels, and bought and sold into marriage as it suited their menfolk. Rather as some women still are some cultures.
So here are the estates.
1. The King
He was the top dog. He owned all the land and was the ultimate ‘fount of justice’. However, his position was rarely so secure that he did not need the support of a goodly number of his barons. Who form the next layer.
2. Barons / tenants in chief.
These held their land direct from the King. They were mostly, but not exclusively, Norman. There were three main kinds of tenure:
- Civil, and
Lets take a closer look at these.
This was generally ‘Knight Service’ under which the tenant had to provide one mounted soldior for every ‘knights fee’ he held. This could be passed on by ‘sub infeudation’, which meant that the land was sublet and the tenants had to provide the knight.
Here the services were not military ones. It was known as serjeanty. For example if a tenant had to provide personal services to the King (Baker mentions looking after the Kings wine to holding his head when seasick) this was known as grand serjeanty. Petty serjeanty was if they had to provide things, such as armour, wine or food etc
This was when the grant was made to a religious organisation in return for saying prayers for the soul of the donor. Very important for the hereafter, of course. People thought in quite a different way those days. They would probably see us all today as great sinners.
3. Lower orders
Generally these were to peasants who had agricultural duties.
- Villeinage was where the lord could demand any sort of work. Here the tenure was ‘unfree’. As opposed to
- Socage which was where the duties were fixed, for example helping the lord with sowing or reaping at certain times of the year.
Socage eventually became the term for all free tenure, apart from Knight service, serjeanty or ‘spiritual service’ which were generally just for those of high rank.
What really happened
That all sounds nice and neat. However apparently in reality it was a lot more complicated. Men could hold different plots of land from different lords in different capacities.
For example you could hold land from one lord by knight service and another by socage. Plus holding land by knight service didn’t make you a knight, any more, it seems, than tenure in villeinage made you a villein.
As my friend Ben might say, its enough to make you want to flush you head down the toilet. Except of course they didn’t have flush toilets, other than maybe natural ones such as streams and waterfalls. Best not to ask really.