A manor was a country estate, usually a district over which a medieval Lord had domain over. The Lord could also exercise certain rights and privileges during the medieval period over what was allowed inside the estate. Typically, a medieval manor included a manor house built apart from the villages where peasants and other workers lived.
Medieval manor houses also came in various sizes from 750 acres to 1500 acres, which was in accordance with the wealth of the Lord who owned it. Typically, a manor house had a Great Hall, a kitchen, storerooms and servants quarters etc. The dining area of a manor house was usually found in the Great Hall as it was where meetings were held and generally used by everyone who lived in the manor. Most manors also had solar rooms located on the upper floors of the manor house. These rooms were intended for sleeping. Sometimes, the medieval manor house would include wardrobes that were intended as dressing rooms and storage spaces for clothes. In some cases, a wardrobe could be used as storage room for expensive items such as jewelry, coins, furs, plates and sometimes spices. In some rare occasions, they were also used for dressmaking and hairdressing.
Medieval Manors were self-sufficient estates. Medieval manor estates composed of agricultural lands, villages and a manor house. The villages were where the peasants lived and worked, while agricultural lands were worked by Vassals. Medieval Manor Estates could also include orchards, gardens, woods, lakes and ponds depending on size of the property and the wealth of the Lord.
The Feudal system was a combination of a military and a socio-political systems in the Middle Ages, which was mainly based on exchange of lands for a fee or exchange of service and labour. It brought about the relationship between a Lord and a Vassal. This kind of system flourished up until the 15th century. Originally, the feudal system started when King William used this concept to reward his Norman supporters. The lands were taken from the English people and were given to Norman Knights who helped the king conquer England. These lands were called Manors.
Since Medieval Manor were agricultural estates, most historical accounts of its buildings included a range of buildings which were built for agricultural purposes. Barns were the most accounted for buildings since this was where harvested crops were stored. A Granary was another building popular in medieval manors estates. These are smaller storage spaces than the barn. Granaries usually held the crops after threshing.
Ox-houses and stables were also among the many buildings found in and scattered around the manor. During the medieval period, ploughs and carts were their primary means of cultivating the lands and villeins needed oxen and horses to pull them. In order to keep the animals in shape, stables and ox-houses were constructed. Animal houses were also common in medieval manor estates as horses were not the only animals found in manors. They also needed animal houses for cows, pigs, chickens and other livestock.
The kitchen was one of the most important buildings in the estate. Other manors included bake and brew houses. Kitchens in medieval manor houses included huge cooking ovens and enormous fireplaces for roasting and smoking food. Often times, medieval manor house kitchens were connected to the Pantry and Buttery where beverages were stored. There were also other buildings where some of the produce were processed before they could be consumed by the Lord and his family. Some manors also had domestic buildings where the Lord’s guests were received. These buildings were prestigiously built, constructed from good materials and had the best furnishings.
The Lords organised the lands in the manor in order to get agricultural goods. The largest land in the manor were usually given to villeins. These lands were mostly surrounded by a yard and a garden. These properties were used for growing crops, vegetables and fruits. A percentage of which will be given to the Lord as a form of payment or exchange. Meanwhile, Serfs farmed around the manor and complete their work at least thrice a week. They lived in villages where they work on lands and paid dues to the Lord. They lived in mud brick house in the same village. Living in these small cottages was not as comfortable as living in manor houses. Most of these Serfs also believed that they could go to heaven in their after-life so they worshiped in village churches.
Vassal – Also called a Liege. A vassal is a free man who owned lands from Lords they paid homage to. He could be a Lord of the Manor who may directly serve a King or a Noble.
Bailiff – A vital person to the Medieval Manor as he managed most of the undertakings in the estate.
Reeve – An official that was appointed by the Lord. He could also be selected by the peasants themselves.
Serf – Also known as peasant or tenant. They were peasants who worked the Lord’s lands and paid dues in return. They were expected to work three days a week on these lands.
Villein – A peasant or tenant who was classified as lower class. Villeins were dedicated to working agricultural lands. On average, they worked and cultivated 20 to 40 acres of agricultural land.
Cottager – Another form of lower class peasant that has a cottage. Thus the name, Cottager. There were peasants that did not have any lands and worked only a general laborer.
Servants – Also called house peasants. They specifically worked inside the Lord’s manor house. Servants perform kitchen chores, cleaning the house, doing laundry and other tasks the Lord’s family want them to do.
The manor was similar to a business firm. During the medieval era it considered one of the most productive units. With physical capital in the form of lands, buildings, animals and other equipment, daily management and workforce were necessary. It was a self-sufficient system as well as self-contained. The Lords collect their revenues for his return of investment, while the tenants experience the benefits of working the lands. The direction of the manor was primary provided by a manorial court and was presided by the Lord’s appointed personnel called stewards. These included the freehold tenants, Reeves and Bailiff. The manor’s productivity, profitability and efficiency depended on several factors which included the location of the manor, the climate, natural resources as well as labour availability.
Medieval manor houses were usually owned by the affluent and influential people of Medieval England, who were at the top of the feudal system. They were either Noble men, Knights or Kings. However, the manor house, built by the Lords primarily for their families, was only a fraction of a Manor estate. A manor estate comprises of lands, buildings, farm animals and workers that follow the feudal system.