Serf , Slave, Bordar,Villan and Freemen 

 Domesday Book  1086

The above terms are all found in the records of Domesday Essex and to this day Freeman is a common name and a sentiment that we all cherish.

Eastern Essex is included in the part of the Domesday Book referred to as Little Domesday because it only covered the counties of Essex , Suffolk and Norfolk

Life was rather different in 11th century England when the feudal system operated.

In old English society the only freeman in today's terms was the King.

The Manor house was the centre both economically and politically of the area and as a result  everyone who lived in the manor was in some way beholden to the Lord of the Manor

Even the Lord of the Manor was not a totally free man as he would be required to submit to the wishes of the King and to supply finances, armed men and bear arms on behalf of the King where required. If he displeased the King he could very quickly lose the Manor that provided his status and personal wealth.

The titles are intended to describe the varying degrees of freedom and the area of land farmed within the manor but comparison is difficult as the use seems to have varied over different Districts and even different manors.

Freemen formed one class of the feudal society and Serfs another with Slave, Villan, Bordar and Cottar all serf terms.

A freeman would farm or carry out a business within the Manor and would not be required to work directly for the Lord although he would be expected to show allegiance and carry out services were requested

Villans were the wealthiest of the serfs often farming up to 30 acres of their own land.

Villans were provided with some land by the Lord but were expected to provide direct labour for two or three days a week and at other times they could work on their own land. At Spring and Harvest they could be required to work for longer periods on their Lords land.

Bordars ( sometimes called cotars or cottagers) were the middle class of serfs .

They usually farmed only a few acres  or carried out a trade such as carpentry and were required to work on the lords land  virtually full time.

Slaves were the lowest class of Serf.

They enjoyed no properly rights and were required to work full time for their Lord. They enjoyed no freedom and could be sold by their Lord to another Manor.

Female serfs would be required to provide menial services for the Lord.

On average about 12% were Freemen  with 10% of listed as slaves and the remainder Bordars or Villans.

The Lord of the Manor would often provide serf's with seed or even livestock as part of their tenancies.

Serfs were subject to strict conditions in that they were unable to change their home, marry, work to buy or sell or alter their lives in any material way without the approval of the Lord of the Manor. He even had the power to insist that they moved to work in other Manors that he owned which could require moving a comparatively long distance.

Traditionally serfs could inherit both their fathers land and the obligations to the Lord that went with the land.

Serfs houses would be constructed of wooden frames with hide stretched over the timer and then plastered with mud.

There would be one room that would house all of the family and even the livestock during the winter.

An example from our area is the listing for Mundon

Eudo holds Mundon in Lordship

15 Villans , 14 Bordars, 7 Slaves and 2 Freemen.

In this manor there are 4 ploughs in Lordship then 10 mens ploughs.

" arpents of vines, woodland -24 pigs, pasture -200 sheep , 4 Cobs,1 5 cattle, 65 Pigs, 354 sheep and 4 beehives

 

 

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