Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa



Using records from 113 manors in Yorkshire and elsewhere, this article surveys the changing role of manor courts in English local government over three centuries. These institutions allowed juries of established tenants to deal cheaply and easily with a variety of chronic concerns, including crime, migration, retailing, common lands, and infrastructure. Their focus varied significantly according to region, topography, settlement size, and time period, but active courts existed in most parts of the country throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Ultimately, they had many valuable functions which historians have barely begun to explore. This article thus offers the most systematic analysis to date of the role of these institutions in making and enforcing by-laws in this period, showing that many of the courts evolved to suit the changing priorities of local tenants rather than falling rapidly into ruin as has sometimes been assumed.

Corresponding author
Faculty of History, University of CambridgeCB3
Hide All

I am grateful to Mark Hailwood, Steve Hindle, Dave Hitchcock, Dave Postles, Phil Withington, and the two anonymous readers for their comments, and to the Trustees of the Rena Fenteman Research Fellowship, the Borthwick Institute for Archives, the Leverhulme Trust, and the Isaac Newton Trust for providing funding and support for this research. In this article manorial records are cited by manor name and year of court session. Full references can be found in the Appendix. The only exceptions are the few manors that are not included in the quantified sample, for which full references are provided in the footnotes.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

W. O. Ault , ‘Open-field husbandry and the village community: a study of agrarian by-laws in medieval England’, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s., 55 (1965), pp. 1154

Z. Razi and R. Smith , eds., Medieval society and the manor court (Oxford, 1996)

M. Bailey , The English manor, c. 1200 – c. 1500 (Manchester, 2002)

S. Hindle , ‘Persuasion and protest in the Caddington Common enclosure dispute, 1635–1639’, Past and Present, 158 (1998), pp. 4850

J. A. Yelling , Common field and enclosure in England, 1450–1850 (London, 1977)

K. Wrightson and D. Levine , Poverty and piety in an English village: Terling, 1525–1700 (2nd edn, Oxford, 1995), pp. 142–72

S. Webb and B. Webb , ‘The assize of bread’, Economic Journal, 14 (1904), pp. 196218

S. Birtles , ‘Common land, poor relief and enclosure: the use of manorial resources in fulfilling parish obligations, 1601–1834’, Past and Present, 165 (1999), pp. 8790

D. Woodward , ‘Straw, bracken and the Wicklow whale: the exploitation of natural resources in England since 1500’, Past and Present, 159 (1998), pp. 4376

J. R. Wordie , ‘The chronology of English enclosure, 1500–1914’, Economic History Review, 2nd ser., 36 (1983), pp. 489–90

G. Clark and A. Clark , ‘Common rights to land in England, 1475–1839’, Journal of Economic History, 61 (2001) pp. 1029–33

W. J. Jones , ‘A note on the demise of manorial jurisdiction: the impact of Chancery’, American Journal of Legal History, 10 (1966), pp. 300

C. Muldrew , The economy of obligation: culture of credit and social relations in early modern England (Cambridge, 1998)

P. King , ‘The summary courts and social relations in eighteenth-century England’, Past and Present, 183 (2004), pp. 125–72

Drew Gray , Crime, prosecution and social relations: the summary courts of the City of London in the late eighteenth century (Houndmills, 2009)

P. King , ‘Gleaners, farmers and the failure of legal sanctions in England, 1750–1850’, Past and Present, 125 (1989), pp. 116–50

S. Hindle , ‘Hierarchy and community in the Elizabethan parish: the Swallowfield articles of 1596’, Historical Journal, 42 (1999), pp. 835–51

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 16
Total number of PDF views: 65 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 248 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 26th September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.