The term 'manor court' has often been used in our article and Occasional Papers. Some may have wondered just what this court was. First of all, there were two kinds: the court baron and the court leet. Both spring from the early middle Ages. Each manor (an estate granted from a superior lord or even the King himself) belonged to a 'lord of the manor' and it was his responsibility to organise the life of the estate for his own profit and the rights of the workers living there. This was done was through the court baron, which in the early years of the mediaeval period met every two or three weeks. The court dealt with such matters as the transfer of land, the organisation of the common fields and meadows, the abatement of nuisances' (defective hedges, blocking of paths, straying beasts, etc) and anything concerning the occupations of the inhabitants, which in most manors we re agricultural. The Steward, who ran the court for the lord, kept a watchful eye over the lord's rights, including rentals, heriots and boon work.
Every county in England was divided into 'hundreds', small administrative areas dating from Saxon times. A modern parallel would be a District Council. The hundred court consisted of representatives from all its manors and had jurisdiction over petty offence and civil affairs, which courts baron had not. Lords who found this irksome could apply to the Crown to have the rights of the Hundred Court applied to them for use in their own manors. Such an additional court in a manor we call the 'court leet' It met twice a year. It did not take long for a lord to fuse his court baron and court leet into one court, meeting only twice annually.
The term is not always used: e.g. in Alcester it is often called the 'curia magna' (the great court) and often the 'View of Frankpledge'. The rights of a lord in the court leet or curia magna were most important in a place like Alcester, for the town was a commercial centre for the area, with a large, busy market each week and annual fairs, with the need for by-laws that were important in controlling the influx of visitors as well as law and order generally. To read the Alcester court rolls is to see that every aspect of life was influenced. It is noticeable in the court rolls of manors surrounding Alcester which possessed only courts baron that civil crimes are not mentioned and agricultural observances alone fill the folios.
Winter 1991 Index
© Alcester & District Local History Society 1991