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Lord of the Manor

The title of Lord of the Manor arose in the English mediaeval system of Manorialism following the Norman Conquest. The title Lord of the Manor is a titular feudal dignity which is still recognised today. Their holders are entitled to call themselves "[Personal name], The Lord/Lady of the Manor of [Place name]".


In medieval times, land was held of the king or ruler by a powerful local supporter, who gave protection in return. The people who had sworn homage to the lord were known as vassals. After the Norman Conquest, however, all the land of England was owned by the monarch (and still is), who then granted the use of it by means of a transaction known as enfeoffment, to earls, barons, and others, in return for military service. The person who held feudal land directly from the king was known as a 'tenant-in-chief'. (see also Land tenure).


Military service was based upon units of ten knights (see Knight-service). An important tenant-in-chief might be expected to provide all ten knights, and lesser tenants-in-chief, half of one. Some tenants-in-chief 'sub-infeuded', that is, granted, some of their land to a sub-tenant. Further sub-infeudation could occur down to the level of a lord of a single manor, which in itself might represent only a fraction of a knight's fee. A mesne lord was the level of lord in the middle holding several manors, between the lords of a manor and the superior lord. The sub-tenant might have to provide knight service, or finance just a portion of it, or pay something purely nominal. Any further sub-infeudation was prohibited by the Statute of Quia Emptores in 1291. Knight service was abolished in 1660 by the Tenures Abolition Act.


A typical manor contained a village with a church and agricultural land. The lord usually had a large block of this land. Some of the inhabitants were serfs and were bound to the land, others were freeholders, known as 'franklins', who were free from feudal service. Periodically all the tenants met at a 'manorial court', with the lord of the manor, or his steward, as chairman. These courts, known as Courts Baron, dealt with the tenants' rights and duties, changes of occupancy, and disputes between tenants. Some manorial courts also had the status of a court leet, and so they elected constables and other officials and were effectively Magistrates Courts for minor offences.

Later history

The tenure of the freeholders was protected by the royal courts. After the Black Death, labour was in demand and so it became difficult for the lords of the manors to impose duties on serfs. However their customary tenure continued and in the sixteenth century the royal courts also began to protect these customary tenants, who became known as copyholders. The name arises because the tenant was given a copy of the court's record of the fact as a title deed. During the nineteenth century manor courts were phased out. In 1925 copyhold tenure formally ended with the enactment of Law of Property Acts, 1922 and 1924.

However, though copyhold was abolished, the title of Lord of the Manor, and some of the property rights attached to it, was not. During the latter part of the twentieth century, many of these titles were sold to wealthy individuals seeking a distinction. However, some of the purchasers, such as Mark Roberts, went on controversially to exploit the property rights.

Current status

Since 1926 the Historical Manuscripts Commission maintains two Manorial Documents Registers. One register is arranged under parishes, the other is arranged under manors and shows the last-known whereabouts of the manorial records. Those that have survived are often at County Record Offices but some are still in the hands of the owners.

In English and Irish Law, the lordship of the manor is treated as being distinct from the actual lands of the manor. The title of lord of the manor is regarded as an 'incorporeal heriditament' (an inheritable property that has no explicit tie to the physical manor) i.e. it can be held "in gross", and it can be bought and sold, just as fishing rights might. Landowners may, therefore, sell their feudal title while retaining their land. The title separate from the land remains a feudal 'title of dignity'. Some have been defrauded into believing they are buying a genuine lordship of the manor. A genuine lordship of the manor is backed by original papers and proof of continuous ownership. Some rights and privileges, or even obligations may go alongside a particular lordship. Lordships with a church affiliation often have a clause that the owner of the title must contribute to the cost of repairs of the church building. If the lordship owns a road, it is possible to charge others for use of this road on the basis that they are crossing the lordship's land. Investing in a lordship of the manor could even be quite profitable, especially if the owner were able to sell it again at a higher price.

Lords or Ladies of the Manor may style themselves thus: "John (or Jane) Smith, The Lord/Lady of the Manor of ". The preposition "of" must be retained to differentiate from a title of peerage. Official agencies do recognise manorial titles which can be entered into a United Kingdom passport since it is a legal form of address.

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