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The Foundations of Gentry LifeThe Multons of Frampton and their World 1270-1370$

Peter Coss

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199560004

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199560004.001.0001

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Human Resources

Human Resources

The Lord and His Tenants

(p.115) 7 Human Resources
The Foundations of Gentry Life

Peter Coss (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The household was the principal locus of gentry consumption, the manor that of production. They were of course closely linked, with the one largely dependent upon the other. The previous chapter showed some of the constant interaction that took place between the two. This chapter focuses on the gentry's relationships with their tenants. The history of the relationship between the Multons and their tenants is lacking in spectacular or sensational episodes. Indeed, it comes across as mundane, even humdrum. All the evidence suggests, however, that the Multons of Frampton — at least as far as the early to mid-14th century is concerned — were a gentry family who were not especially rapacious towards their tenants, but were nonetheless very conscious of their rights and made the most of the opportunities they had to take what they could from their tenants.

Keywords:   English gentry, gentry life, tenants, lords, Multons

The household was the principal locus of gentry consumption, the manor that of production. They were of course closely linked, with the one largely dependent upon the other. In the previous chapters we have glimpsed some of the constant interaction that took place between the two. So far, however, we have said very little about the gentry's relationships with their tenants. It is to this subject that we must now turn. In the famous bas de page scenes of the Luttrell Psalter the labour in the fields is anterior to the depiction of the household; justly so, for the household could not exist without it. The manner in which the agrarian scenes are presented in the psalter gives rise to two observations.

The first is that, as Michael Camille pointed out, they de‐emphasize the land in favour of the depiction of the peasants and their activities.1 We can be sure that this was felt to be of great significance not only by Sir Geoffrey but also by his contemporaries. Lordship of men had traditionally been considered to be as important, if not more important, than lordship over land. When, in the fifteenth century, the Pastons wanted to prove that they were gentle and of ‘worshipful blood’, the first thing they stressed was that they had possessed a court and ‘many and sundry bondmen’ since time immemorial.2 Even though serfdom was in sure and rapid decline in the fifteenth century, tenants, and in particular unfree tenants, still had considerable significance in terms of the meaning of lordship. The significance must have been so much greater in the early fourteenth century.

The second observation is that the psalter paints a picture of deep social harmony at Irnham under the benign lordship of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell. It also indicates that lordship was considered as natural and, indeed, divinely sanctioned. The peaceful harvest is made possible through the blessing of the Lord and under the earthly good lordship of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell. The content of the psalms that figure at this point, the Luttrell arms in the margin and the harvest scenes all (p.116) point to a close interconnection between divine lordship, on the one hand, and the power and protection provided by the secular lord on the other. What we have, as Camille neatly puts it, is ‘a vivid portrayal of the customary labours on a fourteenth‐century manor, that sought to cement social hierarchies and idealize feudal obligations'.3

Once again, the Luttrell Psalter is shown to be ideologically charged. Having said that, can we get any closer to the real relationship between the gentry and their tenants? What was the situation like, as it were, on the ground? For our period we lack the gentry correspondence of later ages which yields direct insights into what people actually felt and thought. Nevertheless, it is worth looking first at the experience of their descendants in the succeeding centuries because it does furnish us with some clues.

When, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, members of the gentry sought to benefit from the rising prices and the greatly expanded market opportunities of their day by engrossing land and by introducing technological improvements, they tended to find themselves in contention with paternalistic values that were considered traditional. These values were hammered into them through the family ‘advice literature’ of the period and reinforced from the pulpit.4 At the same time, however, proactive estate management was also prized. It has been observed of this period that although ‘managerial technique is ultimately a matter of individual aptitude and character’ two groups among the gentry were especially prone to exploit their estates to the full, namely ‘newcomers' and those who were financially embarrassed.5 The resulting tension was often considerable, and many landowners seem to have paid little more than lip service to tradition. Others, no doubt, were genuinely affected by it.

It is worth asking, however, how old these paternalistic values actually were. They seem to have been there in the fifteenth century. In 1465 John Paston I wrote to his wife, Margaret, emphasizing that ‘ye be a gentilwoman and it is worshep for yow to confort yowr tenantis'.6 However, the context of this needs to be understood. The Pastons faced rival claimants to some of their estates. Moreover, these were particular circumstances in particular times, when the landlord–tenant relationship was especially fragile. Colin Richmond may well be right, however, in detecting in Margaret some genuine compassion for her tenants, especially those of her ancestral manor of Mautby which she brought to her Paston marriage. The Paston contemporary, John Hopton, (p.117) was prone to pardon his tenants' fines on grounds of their poverty.7 One is left to wonder just how rare, or how common, such compassion had been, and how often it was encountered in our period when the land was teeming with people and would‐be tenants, that is before the Black Death of 1348–9.

What had intervened was a series of savage plagues and their momentous consequences. The generation that followed 1348 witnessed considerable tension between lord and tenants. The latter sought to maximize the advantages that their new bargaining power had given them by the drastic and continuing fall in population. Tenants and estate workers were increasingly at a premium. Landlords responded individually in various ways to bolster their regimes, the so‐called ‘feudal reaction’,8 while national legislation empowered local justices to hold down wages to pre‐Black Death levels and put the brakes on peasant mobility, measures deliberately designed to prevent people seeking better conditions. The justices of labourers tended to be members of the gentry, putting them into direct conflict with labourers. Little wonder that the poet, William Langland, counselled landlords, during the 1360s, not to vex their tenants. ‘Let mercy be the taxer’, he wrote, and warned of the consequences for the vexatious lord in terms of the perils of purgatory. How far Langland's strictures can be seen as relating to the ‘normal’ world of pre‐1348 is a moot point. His warnings were certainly prescient, as the world of labour laws and truculent peasants was soon to experience a major revolt: the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.9 Meanwhile problems were stacking up that would spell the doom of the old agrarian regime. Falling prices from the mid‐1370s and increasing wages put landlords in the famous price scissors which led to the gradual abandonment of direct demesne farming in favour of leasing, while serfdom, in the wake of peasant revolt and the foregoing economic changes, was to wither away. These changes are outside of the time frame of the current book. Nonetheless, evidence from succeeding periods provides some clues as to how we might read evidence from the pre‐plague period. Against the version of reality depicted in the Luttrell Psalter, we have sporadic evidence of peasants being chastised for their failure to show the necessary deference.10 We also have the evidence of disputes between lords and (p.118) tenants across the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.11 At the same time the divine sanction and the peaceful relations depicted in the psalter are not so far removed from the God‐fearing paternalism espoused in early modern England and this may have some bearing on how we interpret the pre‐plague reality.

How then should the historian trying to understand the relations between gentry and peasants in our period proceed? One avenue of approach is through the normative legal literature of the age, which presumably must have had some impact not only upon landlord–peasant relations but also upon the gentry's actual perceptions of their tenants. Under the common law of villeinage, customary tenants were consigned to the jurisdiction of their lords, and denied access to public courts, virtually assimilating them with the descendants of slaves. The terms villein (villanus, inhabitant of a township or vill) and bondman, neif or serf (nativus) became essentially interchangeable. The legal texts list the numerous disabilities which the unfree suffered as a consequence of their condition. The greatest expression of this subordination is that a lord could sell his serfs singly, as well as part and parcel of an estate. Either way, they were sold with their goods, chattels, and offspring. Nothing can convey the social gulf between lord and serf more clearly than this. As the legal historian F. W. Maitland pointed out, the same Latin word (sequela) was used in the documents for the offspring of both cattle and unfree tenants.12 One might also invoke courtly literature, which differentiates between noble men and women, who were generally capable of refined behaviour, and peasants, of whatever status, who were not. Hence our terms villain and villainy (from villein) and churlish and boorish (from old English ceorl and gebur). All of this must have had some impact upon the world of the gentle and the would‐be gentle, with their social aspirations and their exclusive manners.

In reality all of this was tempered by practical considerations. We know, for example, that many of the disabilities outlined in the normative texts were tempered by need, by custom, and by peasant resistance. There was, for example, a great deal more certainty in peasant lives than the normative texts allow. Their labour services were generally fixed by custom. Even the annual payment of tallage, theoretically at the will of the lord, was in reality a fixed render. Moreover, lords can hardly have regarded their serfs as some sort of separate or sub‐species when in practice they were indistinguishable from free tenants. Furthermore, tenure and status did not necessarily coincide. In the land‐hungry thirteenth century it became increasingly common for free men to take on unfree tenures. Equally, out in the countryside, the precepts of courtly literature can hardly have been taken entirely at face value. Wider (p.119) evidence suggests a much more complex situation and hence more nuanced perceptions.

At the same time the inherent antagonism in landlord–tenant relationships should not be too readily cast aside. It was closely integrated into the manorial economy, with labour partly provided by the services of the peasants. Lords were extracting income from their peasants in a whole variety of ways. Consequently, the relationship was in large measure one of coercion. This can be shown analytically. There was no necessary reason, from their point of view, why peasants should yield a proportion of their surplus to the lords. The antagonism can also be seen in the sporadic resistance that we witness in court records. This resistance has a direct bearing on the observation by some recent historians that lords failed to extract as much from their peasants as might have been expected, given the apparatus of coercion. Significant in this respect is the comment by C. C. Dyer that lords in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries ‘often appear to have treated their tenants gingerly’. The same historian, however, is insistent that lordship cannot be regarded as benevolent.13

Faute de mieux we have no choice but to approach the issue of gentry–tenant relations through the institution of the manor court, the primary instrument of local social control, even though in doing so we may risk putting too much emphasis upon the coercive components of the relationship. Manors were extremely variable, and many factors influenced the level of seigniorial control over the tenants. In order to understand a gentry family's situation apropos their tenants we have to place their manors in their local context. With this observation in mind, let us return to the Multons of Frampton. They had a considerable number of both free and unfree tenants in and around the three settlements of Frampton, Kirton, and Wyberton. As we have seen all three of these were populous and prosperous communities and all three had multiple lords.

Once again, we are fortunate in the survival of documents. A series of Frampton manor court rolls survives for the years 1330–2. The court was held at three‐weekly intervals. It was quite lucrative to the lord, although the income was extremely variable, ranging from £1 6s 3d from the court held in July 1331 to only 3d from the court held in the previous May. The total from sixteen courts held during the complete year 1330–1 comes to £4 11s 9d, beginning with the great court held on 8 October 1330 and ending with the court of 10 September 1331.14 The income was also variable from year to year. For 1325–6 the collector, Alan Thormond, had accounted for £13 10s 8d from ten courts. The sum is considerably higher than in 1330–1, although the number of courts is fewer. Without court rolls for the 1320s it is impossible to know why the sums (p.120) from 1325–6 were so high. The most likely explanation is that the court was exacting money that had not been gathered during the last years of the lord's minority. Around £5 per annum was perhaps the normal annual yield from Sir Thomas de Multon's court.15 The court, although it dealt with tenants at Frampton, Kirton, Wyberton, and elsewhere, was invariably held at Frampton, almost certainly in the hall of the manor. It was clearly quite a flourishing court, unsurprisingly given the high number of tenants.16 From where precisely did this income come?

The short answer is largely from ‘fines' and ‘amercements', that is to say in modern terminology fees or licences on the one hand and imposed fines on the other. The courts were used to enforce the lord's rights vis‐à‐vis his tenants. They were also used for cases between tenants, both free and unfree, so that we find cases for debt, trespass, damage, and defamation.17 The Multons' court had a further dimension to its power, in that the lord had view of frankpledge. This was a matter of delegated public authority, which allowed the lord to ensure that peasants properly belonged to the mutual security system centred on the (normally) ten‐man tithings. The payments involved, which normally accrued to the sheriff, now went to the lord. It also meant that the court dealt with minor offences against the public order which were not matters for the ordinary manor court, e.g. minor acts of violence that led to the shedding of blood, the policing of the hue and cry, and obstructions to public utilities such as highways and ditches. Such matters were dealt with by the same manor court wearing, as it were, a different hat, at Michaelmas and sometimes at Easter too. Some lords had received royal grants of the view of frankpledge, many others had usurped it during the thirteenth century. Often associated with it was the assize of bread and ale, which allowed lords to regulate the price, the quality and, indeed, the measures used by bakers and brewers, and to punish those who did not comply. In reality, they were using this to charge retailers a licence fee to operate. Strictly speaking this was a separate franchise and could function without view of frankpledge.18

Two of the recorded Multon courts were frankpledge courts, namely those held on 8 October 1330 and 3 October 1331. We find in the rolls items that we (p.121) would expect to find at this level of court, including amercements arising out of the hue and cry and for the shedding of blood. There were also amercements for infringing the assize of ale, although the assize of bread does not figure. These were lucrative additions and enhanced the value of the court both in terms of income and of social control. Curiously, there is no mention of view of frankpledge itself in the surviving court rolls, despite the headings specifically calling it a franchise court. Perhaps the annual payments due under this heading were taken outside of the court by the collector, whom we know organized the annual payment of the tallage due to the lord from his unfree tenants. It is important to note that the recorded annual income from the court is minus these matters.

In addition to being able to calculate the income from the Frampton court, we can also use the rolls to understand something of the relationship between lord and peasant.

We will concentrate for the moment on the unfree tenants. The serfs or nativi, who were personally unfree, were obliged to attend the court by reason of their tenure. Indeed, they would be amerced if they failed to do so. Just as they were obliged to attend the lord's court, so they were equally obliged to do labour services on the lord's demesne. As we have seen, the reeves' accounts afford us a glimpse of what this meant in practice.19 The labour services amounted to seasonal work only, including harvest boon services, but not week work throughout the year. They did ploughing, harrowing, weeding, mowing, carrying of both hay and corn, and of course reaping. In addition, eight of the customary tenants were obliged to help to cover the stacks of beans and forty‐six tenants carried turves from the marsh. How onerous these were within the overall peasant economy is arguable,20 but there is good reason to think that they were not always performed with the best will. One of the seasonal services at Frampton was certainly resisted. At the court held on 29 October 1330, more than a dozen tenants were amerced for their failure to perform the service of carting the lord's beans as they were obliged to do.21 At the court held on 10 December 1330, five more tenants were amerced for the same offence. As the issue did not surface the following autumn it would seem that either these peasants had knuckled under or that the lord had backed down. It may be that the lord had been trying to extend the service of carrying of corn to apply to beans.22 There is no mention of the carrying of beans in the account rolls.

Another bone of contention that had featured in the court rolls was the obligatory use of the lord's mill for grinding the tenants' corn. On 8 July 1331, (p.122) four tenants were fined for having withdrawn suit from the mill, i.e. they had refused to take their corn to be ground there and pay the multure fee, the fraction of grain (one‐sixteenth or whatever was the custom) charged at the mill, the remainder being received back as flour. Another tenant was similarly fined at the following court. Meanwhile, however, Reginald Buckle, who was similarly charged, claimed that neither he nor his predecessors had ever milled there. The case was put in respite until the lord could be consulted. Most of those who owed suit of mill across the country were undoubtedly unfree. However, it has been suggested recently that suit was a matter of custom rather than tenure, and that other tenants were drawn in. One owed suit if one's ancestors had done so in the past.23 The case of Reginald Buckle suggests that this might have been what was at issue here.24 The mill was a useful addition to seigniorial income, and from the lord's perspective his right to suit was well worth preserving.25

Much of the manor court's business was directly concerned with the peasant tenements. The extent of 1326, after giving the value of free and then customary rents, contains a statement to the effect that 10s 8d of rent had newly accrued from thirty‐one acres of land ‘which various bondmen (nativi) of the manor acquired in fee from various free tenants'. These acquisitions may have been ratified in court by license of the lord. On the other hand, they may reflect the development of an unregulated land market during the wardship of the estate. By the early fourteenth century a peasant land market had long been in existence and had long involved both free and unfree land.26 By and large, landlords seem to have been concerned not so much to prevent their unfree tenants from exchanging, leasing, or even buying and selling land but rather to control and profit by it. Vigilance varied, but it clearly applied to gentry as much as to other lords. An undated, and indeed untitled, document in the Multon collection, but which undoubtedly dates from around 1324–6, sheds further light on the situation at the beginning of Sir Thomas's tenure.27 It contains four memoranda of matters to be inquired into concerning the conveyancing of land by nativi. This involved the leasing or selling of parcels of land to free men. These parcels (p.123) could then go through several hands and the services due from them would be lost.28 It appears that during the time of Thomas de Multon of Frampton's long wardship a land market had developed, as a result of which unfree land held by Multon tenants who were also personally unfree had been passing into the hands of free men. It was vital to the interests of the lords that they should reassert control. Presumably, as with the newly accrued rent noted in the extent, these ‘discussions' resulted in an increase in income for Thomas de Multon. But it was equally important for him to exercise control over the activities of his bond tenants. Otherwise the integrity of the tenements, and most particularly the services due from them, could have been compromised. The Multon court rolls show the continual need for vigilance in keeping track of tenancies. This must have been a particular problem in an area such as this, with so many small tenancies, so many free tenants, a thriving land market and the intermingling of lordships. Free men entering the manor was a particular problem. When it was found at the great courts of October 1330 and October 1331 that unfree tenants had conveyed land to free men without licence, they were fined and the land taken into the lord's hands. This is not to say that there was an absolute ban on this sort of transaction, but only that it should be regulated. There was no problem when the transaction was done legitimately.

All demises, in fact, needed to be licensed and thereby recorded. There are many cases of licensed demise, most of them involving small pieces of land. Even direct exchanges of land needed to be licensed.29 The lord, of course, profited from regulating these transactions, generally known as ‘surrender and admission’. What passed between the tenants in terms of money was not the court's concern, as long as the lord received his fine. What was especially important was that the lord's own rents should be safeguarded. The question was who, in contemporary parlance, was to perform the services? Consequently this tended to be stipulated when the transaction was licensed.

As far as the unfree tenants were concerned, it was a restrictive regime. And it was one from which it was difficult to escape. It was presented, for example, at the great court of October 1330 that three nativi of the lord had withdrawn themselves from the lord's fee, i.e. left the manor, and they were therefore in mercy (supposing of course that they could be found). And then there was the licence for marrying one's daughter. Known as merchet, this was one of the common law's tests of villeinage. It was regulated by custom. At Frampton it appears to have been due only if a daughter married a free man or married outside of the fee.

The unfree tenants could be called upon to hold office. At the great court held in October 1330 ‘the homage’ presented Alan Thormond or Geoffrey Elryk to (p.124) the office of reeve at the lord's will and Walter30 son of William or Robert son of Robert Gardener or John son of Robert Gardener to the office of collector. Presumably the lord chose from the names on offer. In the latter case we know the upshot, for on 26 March 1331 Robert Gardener accepted the office and took his oath to perform faithfully and efficiently. However, de did not function for long. At the great court on 3 October 1331 Alan ad Pontem junior was made collector and took his oath.31 The unfree tenants could be called upon to perform other, more ad hoc, duties too. On 7 May 1331 six of them were sworn to make a survey of the land of the lord's nativi in Wyberton (that is, literally, to measure it) and report back to the next court. One of them was Alan ad Pontem. Another was Reginald Bishop whom we have met in an earlier chapter as the lord's stockman.

There are a few cases which take us a little further in terms of the relations between lord and tenant and the effect on the tenants' lives. On 5 December 1331 it was presented that Thomas Henery, nativus of the lord, had died. His tenements were taken into the lord's hands, pending an inquiry into the services he owed. The four sons who were his heirs came into court and paid a fine. The two who were of age also swore fealty. The other two were minors and therefore did not. They and their tenements were handed to their mother, who was to look after them and render account when the time came, presumably to the court. In another case it was a male relative who rendered account. The custom seems to have been, therefore, that an under‐age heir and his property was looked after by a male or female relative.

This entry relating to the late Thomas Henery shows a joint inheritance system at work which had increased the number of tenants rather than the number of formal holdings. It also shows that the unfree tenants swore fealty and that they did so in court. As the lord was demonstrably not present in court it was not sworn directly to him, but presumably to the official holding the court. At the manor of Cuxham, where the warden of Merton College presided, we have a full statement of the conditions of tenure of the free and unfree tenants recorded in the year 1329. Under the heading fidelitates nativorum we are told that they make fealty and acknowledge that they hold specified property of the lord in bondage for specified rent and services and three‐weekly suit of court.32 The clauses are, of course, essentially formulaic and they are repeated in the court rolls as individuals take on their tenure. The same formule occur on the Multon court rolls.

(p.125) We learn more about the Multon serfs from a document that was drawn up barely a generation later, c.1340. This is an ‘arrentation’ of the services due from the nativi that was undertaken in the time when Sir Henry Hillary was guardian (custos) of the young John de Multon.33 As guardian Sir Henry appears to have been holding some, if not all, of the Multon property during John's minority, from c.1337 to 1343.34 The ‘arrentation’ gave a money value for each labour service or ‘work’, allowing them to be sold back to the tenants for cash or, indeed, commuted into rent on a longer term basis. Reluctance on the part of the unfree tenants to perform the services may well have been a factor in this decision. Given also the customary outlay on meals, it may also have been considered more economical for the lords to hire the necessary labour. Hired labour was still relatively plentiful on the eve of the Black Death and was in any case already employed on the Multon manor for other tasks, such as threshing. This document, entitled ‘good evidence for the works of the nativi’, can be used by the historian as in effect a ‘custumal’, informing us of the range of services owed by the unfree tenants before their ‘arrentation’.

Twenty tenancies in all are named. There were 14 standard units of four acres each, and a total of eleven multiples, making 25 four‐acre units in all. Moreover, the fourteen‐acre tenement held by the heirs of Gilbert the Cook may well have comprised a further multiple tenancy of twelve acres together with two additional acres, perhaps of assart. This would mean that there had once been (notionally if not actually) a total of 28 standard units, plus three additional acres, two now held by the heirs of Gilbert the Cook and one held as a separate tenancy by Reginald Loveless. If we leave out of account for the moment not only the Cook and Loveless but also the Thormond and Dereboght tenancies, which were held on favourable terms, the following services were due. From each of the 24 four‐acre units we have one person working from the beginning of weeding to the end of harvest, and we have twenty‐four man days of ploughing and twenty‐four man days of harrowing twice yearly, plus twenty‐four men carrying three cartloads of hay each and carrying corn for one‐and‐a‐half days. In addition, when it is required, men would be called upon to wash and sheer sheep.

The remainder of the services, strictly speaking, related to the household rather than the estates, i.e. twenty‐four men carried two cartloads of turf each (from the marshes as an account roll points out), which were presumably required largely for domestic fuel, and, most interestingly, twenty‐four men dealt with the roofing and with carrying timber and roofing materials for the curia. For each item of service the number of repasts that the tenant is entitled to is carefully stipulated. Three tenancies, however, were held on favourable terms. The heirs of Henry (p.126) Dereboght perform only half the service. One strongly suspects that Henry or his forebears had performed the entire service. Alan Thormond was required for harrowing, mowing, reaping, and the carrying of turves, taking the number involved in these activities up to twenty‐five. However, he was exempted from ploughing or any of the other labour services. Again this was almost certainly a recent concession. The Cook tenancy was required to do the carting of hay and turves. In addition, however, it supplied three women with sickles for a day in the autumn, boosting as it were the harvest boon services. Also outside of the norm were the services owed by Reginald Loveless for his one‐acre tenement. He was required to find a woman to work in the fields from the beginning of weeding until the end of harvest, in what appears to have been a relatively heavy burden, although he paid no money rent. The acre held by Reginald was most probably a relatively recent tenancy, as were the extra acres held by the heirs of Gilbert the Cook.

The following observations can be made. The first, with the court rolls in mind, is that there is no mention in the ‘custumal’ of the carrying of beans that had caused such contention in 1330. This would seem to reinforce the suggestion that the lord had attempted to impose an extra burden beyond custom, ultimately unsuccessfully. It underlines the fact that manorial customs were not static in practice but represented a certain amount of negotiation between the peasant community and the lord. It is surely indicative that the number of peasants fined for not carting in 1330 amounted to no less than seventeen (plus the heirs of Thomas Randolf), representing the great majority of the unfree tenements. These tenants constituted only part of the village of Frampton. Nonetheless, they appear to have a constituted a ‘community’, at least in the sense that they could resist their lord collectively. A second observation is the connected one that the customary obligation on the part of the lord to provide food and ale was vital to the continuance of the entire operation. Any attempt to introduce ‘dry’ or ‘hungry’ boons would undoubtedly have led to heavy resistance and the breakdown of the system.35

A third observation concerns the role of women. In his famous study of the Luttrell Psalter, Michael Camille highlighted the fact that the artist's depiction of the harvest shows three reapers with sickles, all of whom are women.36 One of them is patently suffering from backache. This depiction is strikingly unusual. In his essay on harvest work Michael Roberts examined ninety‐four visual representations of reaping and found that only one other (from twelfth‐century Germany) from before 1400 showed women reapers. With this and the evidence from manorial accounts he concluded that reaping as such was ‘man's labour’.37 (p.127)

                   Human ResourcesThe Lord and His Tenants

Figure 7.1. Reaping and Stacking (from the Luttrell Psalter). Add. MS 42131, fos. 172v and 173r. © The British Library Board. All Rights Reserved 2010.

In Camille's view, therefore, the Luttrell Psalter is by no means a representation of reality: ‘here we have an example of where an image in the psalter depicts what probably did not go on in fourteenth‐century fields'38 (Figure 7.1).

And yet, the evidence from the Multon ‘custumal’ must give us pause. Emanating from the same county and at not too great a distance from the Luttrells at Irnham, the Frampton evidence suggests a quite heavy involvement of women at harvest time. This was not because of the demands of harvest requiring all hands, but because by custom one person, male or female, was required from each tenement. The basic holding, we are told, ‘will find one man or one women in the hay and corn from the beginning of weeding until the end of autumn’. This statement seems to be amplified by details of the service owed by Reginald Loveless for his one‐acre tenement. He has to find ‘one woman from the beginning of weeding up to the end of autumn for weeding, reaping (p.128) and making hay stacks in the meadow when hay is carried’. She will also ‘reap and weed around the ditch of the lord's meadows’. It is quite possible that the majority of those reaping the lord's corn at Frampton were, in fact, women. Perhaps the male tenants considered a woman's contribution more expendable in terms of work on their own tenements. This scenario is reinforced by the services due from the abnormal holding of the heirs of Gilbert the Cook from which was due the service of three women with sickles39 for one day in autumn, and from the service due from Reginald Loveless who found a woman for the entire harvest period for weeding, reaping, and connected duties. Nor does this evidence stand entirely alone. The author of the Husbandry, written at the end of the thirteenth century, advises engaging reapers as a team, ‘that is to say five men or women, whichever you wish, and whom are termed “men”’.40 He is talking here of wage labour, but it is nonetheless indicative. None of this, of course, deprives the Luttrell Psalter of its ideological force. It does, however, make the depiction of the harvest closer to at least a south Lincolnshire reality.41 The Frampton ‘custumal’ is close to the Luttrell Psalter's depiction of the agricultural services in other respects too. If weeding and reaping is done by women, the other services—enumerated in the one and depicted in the other—are done by men, perhaps because these tasks were considered to be even more strenuous. Could the fact that the tenants were more likely to send women have encouraged commutation?42 In an age when labour was abundant it might have been thought preferable to commute the services and hire more robust men.43 However we read this evidence, it does suggest that the employment of women as reapers was not solely a post‐Black‐Death phenomenon as a reaction to the shortage of labour.44

(p.129) Finally, it should be noted that the services that were ‘arrented’ here were the arable services only, together with the carting of turves. Why the washing and shearing of sheep is not included is unclear. The ‘custumal’ tells us that if the work was not required no payment could be made in lieu. The same was true of carrying services, including those involved in repairing the houses of the curia. In this case, it may have been felt that it was prudent to retain these services, given that the need was occasional rather than regular. It was the agrarian services that were costing the lord and which, most probably, caused most in the way of truculence from the peasants with the consequent need for rigorous supervision. The fact that carrying and pastoral works could not be ‘sold’ to the peasants when they were not required suggests that as regards the arable enterprise ‘the sale of works' did indeed feature at Frampton, although, if the extant account rolls are anything to go by, it did not go back as far as 1324–6.

The ‘arrentation’ of c.1340 does not stand alone, however, as a means of understanding the situation of the Multon tenantry. The collector's account of 1330–1 gives the rent of bond tenants at Frampton as £1 6½d, a sum close to the £1 2s 3½d ‘besides works' recorded in the custumal.45 The acreage is similar too. In 1330–1 the rent is from 104 acres of bond land of old demesne in Frampton, while the later calculation is 117 acres. Clearly, acreage and rent had increased slightly in the meantime. The greater part of the Multon unfree tenants in the area appear to have been Frampton tenants, with relatively few living in Kirton and Wyberton. These bond tenements, however, were not necessarily the entirety of the land that the nativi held, as the extent of 1326 indicates. Indeed there is a list of additional holdings contemporary with the arrentation. This is one of a series of documents emanating from the beginning of Sir John de Multon's tenure, mirroring the survival of documentation that followed upon his father's majority. As we have seen, there is a household account from 1343–4 as well as a diet account from 1347–8. Furthermore, the fifteenth‐century booklet which contains the arrentation of c.1340 contains a group of additional rentals that were clearly drawn up around the same time. The first item in the booklet is a rental of all the tenants, without reference to individual status or tenure, who paid at the several terms of the year. This rental is also said to belong to the time of Sir Henry Hillary. Most of the nativi of the arrentation figure here too.46 More interesting is the item which follows the arrentation. It lists the free land which the ancestors of the lord's nativi had acquired ‘of military fee’, echoing the newly accrued rent in fee mentioned in Thomas de Multon's extent. Many of the nativi of the arrentation also figure here, suggesting that it, too, is close in date. Some of these men were paying rent for the additional parcels of land to (p.130) several people in addition to their own lord. For example, Reginald Parker (alias Reginald Benet) and Athelard his nephew pay rent to the lord and to no less than eleven other people. These items suggest that the Multon nativi tended to be better endowed with land than the arrentation alone would suggest. They could hold considerably more land than their standard bovate and were well able, it would seem, to pay good money for the opportunities it brought.

There was, of course, nothing new about this in the 1340s. The collector's account of 1330–1 records unfree tenants paying substantial rents ‘at the will of the lord’ and others jointly paying 12s rent from the free land they had purchased. Unfree status, then, was no necessary barrier to holding free land. Altogether these men probably had substantial holdings. The national taxation records tell the same story. Geoffrey Elryk, for example, a Multon serf at Wyberton, paid the very substantial sum of 4s 2d to the lay subsidy of 1332. Allan Cullul, who accounted as collector for 1330–1, paid the more modest but still substantial sum of 2s 6d. When we are talking about the lord's relationship with his unfree tenants, therefore, we must bear in mind that we are not necessarily talking about insubstantial men. There is every reason to suppose that the reeves and collectors were chosen from among the more substantial of those who were Multon tenants.

This brings us to confront more squarely the issue of the lord's attitude towards his unfree tenants. The question of direct contact between the lord and the unfree tenants, such as the reeve and the collector who ran his estate, is problematic. However, it is hard to believe that they never met face‐to‐face or that when they did they could not communicate with a degree of mutual understanding, if not exactly ‘civility’. It was not unknown, moreover, for a nativus to be employed on ‘household’ duties. One clear example is Robert del Park. We first encounter Robert in the court rolls. In 1330 he was one of those amerced for failing to do carrying service. In the arrentation we find him holding a regular four‐acre tenement with its rents and labour services. At the same time, however, the household account of 1343–4 shows Robert going on journeys for the lord—to Lincoln on two occasions and once to Windsor—and being paid expenses. What, then, of those nativi who had come to hold their standard bovates on ‘favourable terms'? Alan Thormond, the collector in 1325–6, held his tenement by money rent and very light labour services. Is there a connection between his low rent and his service to the lord? Similarly, is it conceivable that Gilbert the Cook's heirs held on favourable terms as a result of service in the household? And what do we make of a deceased nativus called Walter of the Kitchen? Is it possible that gentry families like the Multons drew some of their more menial household servants directly from their estates? The least we can say is that the relationship between a lord and his dependant tenants was likely to have been a more complex one than the normative legal texts might lead one to suppose. It was perhaps more complex, too, than the manor court rolls might suggest, given that these portray life as largely determined by the consequences of tenure.

(p.131) Let us turn now to the free tenants. As one would expect they are largely revealed to us through their recorded rents: in the 1326 extent, the collector's account within the 1325–6 manorial account roll, the free‐standing account of the collector for 1330–1, the rental of free tenants at Frampton and Kirton of 1343 (the only Multon rental to survive as an original document) and the further rentals belonging to the 1340s which survive in the early‐fifteenth‐century booklet. The collector for 1330–1, Alan Cullul, accounted for £9 8s 8¼d rent plus £13 10s 4d from farms. Several items indicate an increase in the exploitation of assets since 1325–6. There was 9s coming from the farm of Pecchehall plus 2s 3d increment,47 13s 5d comes from the farm of four houses at the Lane End which the account says used to render 9s. It looks as though more houses had been built at Lane End as only one was recorded in 1325–6. Some additional items are also new.48 We see a similar level of exploitation of assets, later, in the time of Sir John. A surviving rental records the rents and holdings of free tenants of Sir John de Multon in Frampton and Kirton.49 The farms are omitted, but can be supplied to some degree from the rentals in the fifteenth‐century book.50 Enough material survives to indicate that the Multon lordship remained an active one in terms of the exploitation of its resources.

Many of the free rents coming from Frampton and its neighbouring settlements were individually quite modest. There were, however, some substantial figures among the tenants. Hugh de Castleford, for example, paid £1 12s per annum for land in Skirbeck in 1325–6, and was recorded in 1343 as having paid £2 8s for 16 acres there. Thomas de Welby of Kirton had paid two large farms of £4 13s 8d and £2 8s in 1325–6. He contributed 4s 9d to the lay subsidy of 1327 and 5s 2d in 1332. The relationship between the Multons and many of their free tenants must have been purely contractual, especially those who were holding individual items for a period of years at farm. In some cases, however, there must have been some social contact. Thomas de Welby, for example, witnessed a number of Multon deeds during the 1320s and 1330s, where he occurs with other local men of similar station: William de Cobeldyke, Athelard de Welby, John del Meres and Alan son of Alan.51 William de Cobeldyke contributed 4s 3d to the lay subsidy at Frampton in 1332, Alan son of Alan 10s at Kirton in 1327, John del Meres 4s ¼d at Kirton in 1327 and 6s in 1332. The last mentioned, however, held a mere two acres of the Multons at Kirton in 1343, paying 1s 1d per annum. This is a clear warning against assuming that (p.132) a small parcel of land in a rental was necessarily held by someone of little consequence locally.

We should not assume, either, that the lord necessarily had more dealings with tenants solely because they were free. Free tenants held their land on considerably better conditions, although their money rents could be noticeably higher than those paid by villeins. As is well known, they were not invariably better off. Many free tenants were cottars, that is cottagers, often holding very small parcels of land. As this was insufficient land on which to support a family, they needed to supplement their income by wage labour and/or by a variety of other occupations. England enjoyed an expanding and commercializing economy in which there were opportunities, as well as rural poverty. Nowhere was this more the case than in the Fens. At the same time we should not make the mistake of assuming that all free tenants were peasants. They included minor ecclesiastics, officials of various kinds, townsmen as well as substantial local craftsmen, and even the lords of neighbouring manors. M. Barg has compiled figures indicating that in the three counties of Oxfordshire, Huntingdonshire, and Buckinghamshire, in particular, more than half of the freehold land recorded in the Hundred Rolls was held by people who were not peasants but were drawing rents from those who were actually cultivating the land.52 It is important to be alive to this. Some of the Multon tenants at Frampton and its environs were certainly in Barg's categories of non‐peasant, although the majority do in fact appear to have been cultivators. On the other hand, as we have seen, some unfree tenants were also substantial farmers, in the modern sense of the term. This can be shown in outline, but not in detail, for some of the Multon tenants. Robert son of Alexander the reeve, for example, who was later amerced for failure to perform service and for not using the lord's mill, held in addition to his servile holding, land in Kirton for which he paid a farm of £1 5s per annum in 1325–6 and Pecchegrene and Loyrigges for which he paid another 6s 8d. The Thormonds seem to have functioned at a similar level. Such men then were as wealthy as some fairly substantial free tenants and they took additional land outside of customary tenure.

What can the court rolls tell us about the relationship between the lord and his free tenants? And how did this differ from the institutional relationship with the nativi? At Cuxham a free tenant would make fealty and would be given a day at the next court to demonstrate what he held of the lord and by what services. Afterwards he would come and acknowledge what he held of the lord for homage and fealty and by specified services, in this case of course money rent not labour. It is stated that the lord will have custody and marriage (of the heir) when this accrues, and that the free tenant also owes three‐weekly suit of court. Finally he would be given a day for making homage to the lord within forty days ‘wheresoever the lord may be found’. As the lord, the warden of Merton College, (p.133) presides over this court, the clear implication is that this is performed outside of the court. A major difference between the unfree and free tenant in terms of status—aside from labour services, merchet and the other disabilities—is that the free tenant performs homage and does so out of court.

Although we have no direct statement of custom, the same formule are applied with regard to free tenants at Frampton. At the great court of 8 October 1330, for example, Laurence Hillary, heir of Thomas, who was of full age, came into court and swore fealty for his tenement and was given a day at the next court for demonstrating what he held and by what services. And homage, it says, is respited until the next court. On 29 October it was ordered to levy a relief of 7s 6d from him. It might be assumed from the respite that homage was made in court. In fact, we have a case which makes it clear that this was not so. On 11 February 1331 another free tenant came into court and swore fealty for the tenements he ‘claimed to hold’ of the lord by hereditary succession. He was told that he should go to the lord to pay homage. At this moment in their lives at least the free tenants seemed to come face‐to‐face with their lord.

Even for free tenants their tenure could involve irksome restrictions. The Multons had the right to the marriage of some, at least, of their under‐age free tenants; that is to say they had feudal wardship.53 Marriage and wardship were valuable ‘feudal incidents' and it was obviously important for a lord, or at least his agents, to keep track of them. This is no doubt why the mid‐fourteenth‐century rentals of Multon tenants differentiate between tenures. Some tenancies are said to be held by military tenure, while others are held in socage—that is non‐military free tenure—and therefore by implication not subject to wardship and marriage.54 In such cases these matters were not within a lord's jurisdiction. The collector's account for 1330–1 is also explicit in differentiating between tenures. In his account tenements are held by free tenants, by bond rent, in socage, at farm, and at the will of the lord. Those who were free tenants without qualification seem to have been subject to wardship and marriage.

No doubt some free tenants valued an association with a particular lord. The Welbys, as we shall see, had a military relationship with the Multons of Frampton.55 There are certainly others who would have wanted to break it. On 12 July 1330 it was ordered to distrain eleven men for homage and fealty. This was repeated at the next court.56 A particular bone of contention was suit of (p.134) court. In this world of kaleidoscopic lordship and free tenures, the exercise of power and authority could be difficult matters. Suit of court was a more general bone of contention, as we shall see below.

Free tenants figure centrally in the standard interpretation of the development of manorial court rolls in England.57 The explanation for the proliferation of these, it is argued, lies with the development of the common law courts. Landlords were able to ensure that their villein tenants did not gain access to the royal courts, so that they could keep control of them, their tenements and their labour.58 Free tenants, however, were more of a problem for landlords as, unlike villeins, their access to royal courts could not be denied. Lords reacted by making their own manorial courts more attractive to freeholders by introducing some of the new procedures developed in the royal courts, such as the recording of proceedings.59

The most significant procedural development was the use of juries of various kinds. These had been used for some time to produce manorial surveys and extents. Now they began to displace inquests conducted by the entire court and were introduced for personal plaints as well as disputes over land. An important study of the introduction of these new procedures by John Beckerman argues that the first quarter of the fourteenth century, roughly speaking, was ‘the heyday of jury trial in English manor courts'.60 Another procedure that was transferred from royal to manorial courts was the jury of presentment. Initially this was confined to crime and to public matters as many landlords took over the business of the sheriff's tourn in their ‘views of frankpledge’. From the early fourteenth century, however, it was extended to deal with seigneurial rights and offences against manorial custom. It is possible that the slow introduction of this procedure was due to peasant resistance, given that it generally strengthened the landlord's position. This was so because persons who were presented by a jury as guilty of infractions tended to be summarily convicted.

There were, however, considerable benefits for tenants in the introduction of additional legal instruments into the manorial courts. For one thing, they now recorded economic transactions of numerous kinds and added to the security of (p.135) tenure. Not all the influences were one way, that is to say from royal to seigniorial courts. The procedure of ‘surrender and admittance’, whereby a tenant gave the property back to the lord who passed it to a new tenant, paved the way for the Statute of Quia Emptores of 1290 which established substitution rather than subinfeudation with regard to property held in fee simple. This in turn seems to have increased the incidence of ‘surrender and admittance’ in the manorial courts. By this procedure the new tenant became responsible for the rents and services and paid the lord an entry fine, in addition to whatever had passed between the old and the new tenant, which was outside of the business of the court. In the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries it became the standard means by which customary land passed from one tenant to another. The various procedures can be seen in operation at Frampton. Surrender and admittance has already been observed. Inquests by trial juries occur with some frequency. Presentment also occurs, though only it seems at the frankpledge courts.61 The Multons were not spectacularly successful, however, in retaining the attendance of their free tenants.

A few of the free tenants had suit recorded in the 1343 rental as a condition of their tenure. Certainly more free tenants owed suit at Frampton than is indicated in the rental since they appear in the list of essoins (excuses) recorded at or near the opening of the court, either as essoiners or as their substitutes. It seems highly likely that most of the free tenants owed suit at Michaelmas. Getting them to attend, however, was a difficult matter.62 The attendance of Sir John de Kirton seems to have been a dead letter, while the Cobeldykes were also problematic. But did free tenants owe suit to the manorial court itself? In some cases, at least, it seems that they did, as they are found there too among the essoins.63 Of course others may well have attended regularly without mention in the rolls. However, the number one encounters among the known free tenants is not large. Their attendance was probably intermittent. Despite the difficulties they encountered with the many Cobeldykes and others, the Multons nevertheless strove to maintain the attendance of free tenants where they could.64

(p.136) It is important to ascertain, however, whether the free tenants of Frampton and Kirton, and elsewhere in the area, were bringing cases to the court. From this perspective cases were of two kinds, i.e. those brought by free men against unfree Multon tenants and those brought against one another. In these latter cases it was more a matter of choice as to whether one chose the manor court or a public court. The first variety certainly occurs. There were numerous cases brought by free men against unfree tenants for debt.65 By contrast, however, clear cases where free tenants were suing one another are conspicuously absent. Cases of unfree versus unfree, on the other hand, abound. Overwhelmingly, those who brought pleas of debt, transgression, and the like were unfree tenants. Everything indicates that the nativi were the mainstays of the Frampton seigniorial court. The evidence suggests that the Multon court at Frampton was not especially popular with the free tenants of the area, and that the Multons were fighting a continual battle to keep their suit. It may be that free tenants had a stronger presence in other local courts, at the commercially vibrant Kirton, for example, with its local market, or at the Hungerfield or Richmond courts. One should not extrapolate from the evidence of one court at one point in time, but the Multon evidence suggests that the need to retain the presence of free tenants was not the sole catalyst for change. The pressure for more effective courts was probably more widespread within the tenantry. Moreover, in this as in other matters, lay landlords tended to borrow ideas and procedures from one another.

What role did the lord play in the court? Things were done in his name, but Sir Thomas de Multon neither attended nor presided, whether the court be the manorial or the frankpledge court. This is not to say that no secular lord ever presided in his own court. However, at the level of the Multons there is every reason to think that this would have been very unusual. On 8 July 1331 an issue regarding tenure was respited until the lord could be consulted. He was there, then, in the background, operating at one remove from the court through his officials, much as he did in matters concerning the estate.

The question as to what contact a gentry lord actually had with his peasants is therefore a complex one. In the case of his unfree tenants as a body, the answer is probably not a lot, although, as we have argued, he may have had some contact with some of them as individuals, if they held manorial office or had dealings with the household. As we have seen, however, they swore their fealty by means of induction, as it were, at the court and in the absence of the lord. The allowance of ale and victuals to Sir Henry the Chaplain and the reeve which we find in the account roll for 1324–5, at the end of the provision for (p.137) the customary tenants during boon services, strongly suggest that it was they and not the lord who presided over these proceedings. On the other hand, we do have the evidence that Roger de Cobeldyke was present at the sheep‐shearing festival.

Free tenants on the other hand were expected to perform homage to the lord. There is no guarantee that this was not done via a major official, as the lord's proxy, although it is not what the records say. Even if they paid homage directly their subsequent contact with the lord may well have been quite minimal. Most of the free tenants of the Multons at Frampton, Kirton, and Wyberton held only small parcels of land from them, although we cannot assume that this necessarily reflected their overall economic status. On the other hand, Roger de Cobeldyke was a lord in his own right and there were others among the Multon tenants who had some status. The witness lists to charters suggest some real contact between tenant and lord. Hugh de Castleford paid his rent personally into the lord's coffers, as did Emma Stotte for her house in Boston. This may have been partly a matter of convenience, but it was also perhaps a mark of their status that they paid directly and not through the lord's collector. It cannot be doubted that local society was strongly hierarchical and that this affected the lord's perception of individual tenants and helped determine the level of social contact, if any, with them.

There are some interesting suggestions of social interaction between the tenantry and the household. The accounts of 1343–4 show Amabel de Cobeldyke being given the sum of 5s for the lady's business. Where she fits into the Cobeldyke clan is unclear. However, the rental of 1343 shows her as a free tenant of the Multons, both in Frampton and in Kirton. She seems to have had a collecting role, for she handed directly to the receiver the sum of 13s 4d at Michaelmas 1343 together with £2 16s 8d from Neuvand (presumably for Newland) for the entire year and 6s for winter pasture. She was a substantial figure in her own right. She is presumably identical with the Amabel widow of William de Cobeldyke who paid £1 0s 4d to the 1332 lay subsidy at Frampton. Amabel seems, therefore, to straddle household and estate. Nor was she the only one to do so. The household chaplain had done so since the endowment of the chantry at Frampton around 1260.66 Nicholas the Chaplain appears prominently in the household accounts. His duties were clearly multifarious and went well beyond saying mass. He, too, is found travelling, this time on the lord's business. As we have seen, a predecessor, Henry, was involved in organizing the harvest boon services in 1324–5. The reeve's account reveals Henry taking cloth and lining to Ingleby. Robert the Chamberlain received a sum of 6s 8d at Frampton in 1343–4, indicating that he probably functioned there. He is very likely the same Robert Chamberlain who witnessed a deed with other local free tenants in 1337, suggesting that he was considered to be one of them.67 He paid 2s (p.138) 11d to the 1332 subsidy at Frampton.68 The household also had dealings of an economic nature with their tenants, one being Ivette Godeson, who was clearly a maltstress,69 just as it had economic contacts with many other men and women who were not Multon tenants.

We lack the sources to penetrate the gentry's personal perceptions of their tenants. If there were sometimes elements of paternalism in the relationship we rarely perceive it in our sources, although we do have evidence of social contacts which certainly do not preclude it. On the other hand, that there was some latent antagonism in the relationship is certain. Our overriding impression, admittedly from a limited range of sources, is that the gentry saw their tenants primarily as assets to be exploited. However, these assets were human and their exploitation must have involved some negotiation. This was naturally the case when it came to leases, farms, and other contracts. It was also true when it came to conflict resolution. Conflict arose from the lord's demands and from peasant resistance, institutionalized at the manor court. The evidence from gentry sources does not reveal secular landlords regarding even unfree tenants as a subspecies with bestial characteristics. What the gentry records point to is neither this nor indeed the idealized world of the Luttrell Psalter, but a more hard‐headed, matter of fact view of the world.

If the attitude of lords towards their tenants was based in large measure upon economic calculation, the legal ‘underpinning’ of the landlord–tenant relationship, most especially where the latter was personally or tenurially unfree, retained considerable coercive potential should this need to be invoked. And, as we can see from the experience of landlords in succeeding centuries, the basic medieval set up could take landlord–peasant relations in different directions according to the ‘quality’ of lordship and the presiding social and economic conditions.

In the meantime we can certainly find examples of particularly avaricious gentry landlords. Work on the Hundred Rolls of 1279–80 has shown that the highest rents tended to be taken by some of the lesser lords, men like Wydo de Waterville whose rents from Orton Waterville in Huntingdonshire averaged an enormous £1 per virgate. Sandra Raban's study of Normancross hundred in that county has led her to conclude that if ‘rapacious lords' existed, ‘they were more likely to have been knights [than the ecclesiastical landlords of earlier historiography], many of whom had relatively modest resources and were therefore driven to take action’.70 As in later centuries levels of exploitation varied and attitudes probably did so too. There is some evidence from our period that when landlords were in financial difficulties they might well try to increase the burdens on their tenants. Jean Birrell's study of the court rolls of Alrewas shows Sir Philip de Somerville (p.139) doing precisely that during the 1330s and coming into conflict with his tenants as a result.71 An especially exploitative attitude on the part of newcomers can certainly be seen in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries just as in a later age. Good examples come from those thirteenth‐century curiales who have been the subject of study, men like Geoffrey de Langley who, at Stivichall near Coventry, for example, used his muscle to increase his rents and to change the terms on which his tenants held.72 In these respects the evidence tallies with that from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Much must have turned on the structure of estates and on whether there or not there was a strong peasant community able to resist a landlord's attempts to revise the level of exactions in his favour.

The history of the relationship between the Multons and their tenants is lacking in spectacular or sensational episodes. Indeed, it comes across as mundane, even humdrum. Unfortunately, the Multon archive fails us just at the point that peasant–landlord relations became especially strained, in the decades after the Black Death. All the evidence suggests, however, that in the Multons of Frampton, at least as far as the early to mid‐fourteenth century is concerned, we have a good example of a middle of the road gentry family who were not especially rapacious towards their tenants but were nonetheless very conscious of their rights and made the most of the opportunities they had to take what they could from their tenants.


(1) Camille, Mirror in Parchment, 180–1.

(2) I discuss this in more detail in The Knight in Medieval England 1000–1400 (Stroud, 1993), ch. 1.

(3) Camille, Mirror in Parchment, 209.

(4) See the examples given by Felicity Heal and Clive Holmes, The Gentry in England and Wales 1500–1700 (London, 1994), 102.

(5) Ibid. 114.

(6) For the Paston evidence see, for example, Davis, Paston Letters and Papers, I, nos. 73, 178, 210, and Colin Richmond, ‘Landlord and Tenant: the Paston Evidence’, in J. Kermode (ed.), Enterprise and Individuals in Fifteenth‐Century England (Stroud, 1991), 36.

(7) Colin Richmond, John Hopton: A Fifteenth Century Suffolk Gentleman (Cambridge, 1981), 47.

(8) See, for example, R. H. Britnell, ‘Feudal Reaction After the Black Death in the Palatinate of Durham’, Past and Present 128 (1990), 28–47. See also John Hatcher, ‘England in the Aftermath of the Black Death’, Past and Present 144 (1994), 3–35.

(9) For the origins of the revolt, see, especially, R. H. Hilton, Bondmen Made Free: Medieval Peasant Movements and the English Rising of 1381 (London, 1973); and Christopher Dyer, ‘The Social and Economic Background to the Rural Revolt of 1381’, in R. H. Hilton and T. H. Aston (eds), The English Rising of 1381 (Cambridge, 1984), 9–42, repr. in Christopher Dyer, Everyday Life in Medieval England (London, 2000), 191–219.

(10) See the references in Coss, ‘An Age of Deference’, in Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod (eds), A Social History of England, 1200–1500 (Cambridge, 2006), 38–9. The examples come from ecclesiastical estates, but they are nonetheless indicative.

(11) The locus classicus here is R. H. Hilton, ‘Peasant Movements in England Before 1381’, EcHR 2nd ser. Ii (1940), 117–36. Hilton's findings have been much amplified since, by himself and by other scholars.

(12) F. Pollock and F. W. Maitland, The History of English Law, 2 vols (Cambridge, 1895; repr. 1968), I. 380–1.

(13) Christopher Dyer, ‘The Ineffectiveness of Lordship in England, 1200–1400’ in Christopher Dyer, Peter Coss, and Chris Wickham (eds), Rodney Hilton's Middle Ages: An Exploration of Historical Themes (Oxford, 2007) 69–86, at 79 and 85.

(14) The Collector's Account for 1330–1 contains £3 9s 10d from perquisites of the court, plus 7s 5d from the relief of Lawrence Illory, making £3 17s 3d. (Multon Adds 9.)

(15) In 1324–5, the first year of Sir Thomas de Multon's tenure, the court had yielded £5 7s 5d.

(16) A recent study of the yield from seigniorial courts from the Inquisitions Post Mortem of the first half of the fourteenth century shows that three‐quarters of all courts were worth less than £1 per annum and that the mean was 16s. Only one in twenty yielded £5 or more per year: Campbell and Bartley, England on the Eve of the Black Death, 269–75.

(17) See Mark Bailey (ed.), The English Manor c. 1200–c. 1500 (Manchester, 2002), 168–170; chapter 4 of this work gives a good general introduction to the subject, together with an excellent bibliography.

(18) Another franchise was free warren which gave the lord the exclusive right to hunt minor animals on his land and to punish poachers, who were almost always their tenants. See, for example, the court rolls of Walsham le Willows: Ray Lock (ed.), The Court Rolls of Walsham le Willows 1303–50 (Woodbridge, 1998). The Multons, however, did not have free warren, at least not at Frampton.

(19) See above, Chapter 5.

(20) For the strongest argument that villein tenants were often better off than their free counterparts see John Hatcher, ‘English serfdom and villeinage: towards a reassessment’, Past and Present 90 (1981).

(21) The amercements were 3d, 6d, or 9d according to whether a half day, the standard day, or one‐and‐a‐half days' work was due.

(22) I owe this suggestion to Barbara Harvey.

(23) See John Langdon, Mills in the Medieval Economy (Oxford, 2004), 275–8.

(24) There is nothing to suggest that Reginald was an unfree tenant.

(25) As we have seen, the Multon mill was a windmill. The evidence of the Inquisitions Post Mortem indicates that the average windmill brought in a net income of just under £1, although there was a tendency to under‐valuation: Campbell and Bartley, England on the Eve of the Black Death, 280. The extent of 1326 values the Multon mill at £1 6s 8d.

(26) The most important studies are M. M. Postan's introduction to Cartae Nativorum, ed. C. N. L. Brooke and M. M. Postan, Northamptonshire Record Society no. 20 (1960), ch. 2, ‘The Charters of the Villeins', and P. D. A. Harvey (ed.), The Peasant Land Market in Medieval England (Oxford, 1984), especially the editor's introduction and conclusion. See also P. R. Hyams, King, Lords and Peasants in Medieval England (Oxford, 1980), ch. 5. For a recent, and broader, discussion of peasants and land, see Phillipp R. Schofield, Peasant and Community in Medieval England 1200–1500 (Basingstoke, 2003), part I.

(27) Multon Hall 128/11.

(28) Two of the tenants concerned were said to be nativi of Sir Thomas de Multon and Sir Thomas de Kirton jointly.

(29) Nicholas son of Robert Pinder exchanged land with his son, Thomas, but they still had to pay a fine of 1s.

(30) The roll says William, but it probably an error for Walter son of William who appears elsewhere.

(31) The collector's responsibilities were wide and included not only collecting rents but also tallage and the fines from the lord's court. Oddly, the collector who finally accounted for the lord's rents for 1330–1 was Alan Cullul: Multon Adds 9. Either Robert Gardener had been superseded or he held a subordinate office.

(32) P. D. A. Harvey, Manorial Records of Cuxham, 657.

(33) Multon 165/30. This is a booklet comprising 16 leaves of paper, and unbound. It was written in the early fifteenth century but consists in large part of rentals of mid‐fourteenth‐century date. Sir Henry was not, however, custos of the manor in the sense that Walter Gower had been in 1331. Henry was a knight and custos here means guardian.

(34) See below 198‐9.

(35) For dry and hungry boons, see H. S. Bennett, Life on the English Manor (Cambridge, 1937; repr. 1969), 19, 111.

(36) Mirror in Parchment, 194–7.

(37) Michael Roberts, ‘Sickles and Scythes: Women's Work and Men's Work at Harvest Time’, History Workshop VII (1979). There are eight examples from after 1400.

(38) Mirror in Parchment, 196.

(39) I am presuming that cum falc’ refers to sickles. The work of M. Roberts (above) suggests that it would have been most unusual for women to mow with scythes. They were never shown with scythes in the illustrations: ‘Sickles and Scythes’, 5. However, the word falx could mean either. Alternatively, cum falc’ could conceivably stand for cum falcatoribus, which would suggest women undertaking ancillary work (raking, gathering, and binding) alongside the mowers.

(40) Interestingly, he seems to envisage no difference in productivity, for twenty‐five ‘men’ can reap and bind ten acres a day, working full time: Oschinsky (ed.), Walter of Henley, 444–5.

(41) It may also help to explain ‘the rent called Womanswerk’ on the Abbey of Crowland's manor at Langtoft: F. M. Page, The Estates of Crowland Abbey (Cambridge, 1934), 95. This seems to refer to commuted service.

(42) On peasant tenements Barbara Hanawalt assumes that the reaping will normally be done by the man: The Ties That Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England (Oxford, 1986), 126–7.

(43) This is, of course, a controversial subject. For a discussion of the value attached to women's work, but concentrating on the period after the Black Death, see Sandy Bardsley, ‘Women's Work Reconsidered: Gender and Wage Differentiation in Late Medieval England’, Past and Present 165 (1999), 3–29; and the ensuing debate between John Hatcher and Sandy Bardsley in Past and Present 173 (2001), 191–202.

(44) Nevertheless, the post‐Black‐Death conditions are likely to have increased the value of women's work. It could be argued that the fifteenth‐century copy of the arrentation of c.1340 has been ‘contaminated’ by subsequent social changes. However, the other aspects of the custumal are consistent with what we know from the manorial accounts of 1324–6 and the names of the tenants are entirely consistent with the 1340s.

(45) Multon 9.

(46) Henry Dereboght, Reginald Loveless and the heirs of Stephen Miller are missing. Robert Randolf has lost his brother Alan, while Alan Thormond has gained a brother called Roger. Robert son of Elias appears to have been replaced by Alan son of Robert, presumably his son. This suggests that the rental might be slightly later than the arrentation.

(47) A note adds that it will render 12s the following year.

(48) For example, the 17s 1½d coming from three acres, three roods and fifteen perches of land in le Newemersh put at farm to Simon son of Alan and the 4s 6d for ½ acre in le Stewemersh put at farm to Thomas son of William.

(49) Multon Add 7.

(50) The quality of the transcription deteriorates and there appear to be omissions from the rentals on which the writer is working. The names of tenants suggest that these rentals are a little later than that of 1343 but not by very much.

(51) Multon nos 1a, 11a, 26c, 29a.

(52) M. A. Barg, ‘The Social Structure of Manorial Freeholders: an Analysis of the Hundred Rolls of 1279’, AgHR 39 (1991), 108–15.

(53) The question of the marriage of a free tenant occurs, for example, at the great court held on 8 October 1330 with regard to Jocens son of Geoffrey Augrim, ‘who is under age and whose marriage belongs to the lord by reason of the tenements which he holds of the lord's fee and of which his father died seised’, and who was given into the custody of Peter son of Robert and John Basilneve, who pledged to produce him unmarried.

(54) Those holding by military tenure had presumably been liable to pay a contribution to scutage (shield money) when the king called out the host.

(55) See below 200–1, 286.

(56) One of them at least continued to resist. At the great court held on 3 October 1331 it was presented that Sir John de Kirton ought to come and does not; therefore he is in mercy. It was further presented that he has withdrawn service from the lord, namely homage and fealty and 4d per annum for two selions of land in Kirton. It is ordered that he be distrained. For a man of his stature—himself the lord of a manor—this recognition of subordination, aside from the practicalities, must have been especially irksome.

(57) For what follows see Zvi Razi and Richard Smith, ‘The Origins of the English Manorial Court Rolls as a Written Record: a Puzzle’, in Z. Razi and R. Smith (eds), Medieval Society and the Manor Court (Oxford, 1996).

(58) For an indispensable exploration of this, see Paul R. Hyams, King, Lords and Peasants in Medieval England.

(59) Although some manor court rolls were already being produced during the first half of the thirteenth century, at least for large ecclesiastical estates, they began to proliferate in the 1260s and 1270s: Razi and Smith, ‘The Origins of the English Manorial Court Rolls', 40.

(60) John S. Beckerman, ‘Procedural Innovation and Institutional Change in Medieval English Manorial Courts’, Law and History Review 10 (1992), 214.

(61) On 8 October 1330 we hear that it was presented ‘by the homage’ that many persons who ought to have come to the court had not. The whole homage was amerced 2s for failure to present this default. A further ten matters were presented, mainly concerning the hue and cry and breaking of the assize of ale, although two seigniorial matters were also presented. It is not clear whether the homage spoke in practice through a jury, although it may well be that they did. In October 1331 we hear of eleven presentments regarding the breaking of the assize of ale, the hue and cry, shedding blood and theft.

(62) At the Michaelmas court of 1330 the homage presented a list of seventeen persons who ought to come but had not, that is to say, in fact, that they had neither come nor essoined, while there is a further list of free tenants who were ordered to be distrained for homage and fealty. Given that they were resisting Multon lordship they were hardly likely to appear in court. There were also suitors who paid an annual sum to be free of attendance, that is to say their suit was commuted.

(63) One of the free tenants had suit at the Michaelmas court only recorded in the rental.

(64) The history of the Hillary tenancy suggests this. Between the court rolls and the rental of 1343, Laurence Hillary seems to have died. Hugh de Dowesby acquired a portion of his land. Suit of court was included in his tenure. Moreover, it was written above the entry that the land had been ‘sold’ by the lord with suit of court; it obviously mattered.

(65) For the significance of inter‐peasant debt, see P. Schofield, ‘Dearth, Debt and the Local Land Market in a Late Thirteenth‐Century Village’, AgHR 45 (1997); and ‘Access to Credit in the Early Fourteenth‐Century English Countryside’, in P. R. Schofield and N. J. Mayhew (eds), Credit and Debt in Medieval England (Oxford, 2002).

(66) For the endowment and the early chaplains, see below 144.

(67) Multon no. 21.

(68) There is nothing to suggest, however, that he held directly of the Multons.

(69) See above 84. The collector's account of 1330–1 shows that she was a tenant of the Multons in Boston, which was where the Godesons seem to have originated.

(70) Raban, A Second Domesday?, 137.

(71) Jean Birrell, ‘Confrontation and Negotiation in a Medieval Village’, in Survival and Discord in Medieval Society: Essays in Honour of Christopher Dyer, ed. Richard Goddard, John Langdon, and Miriam Müller (Turnhout: Brepols, 2009).

(72) P. R. Coss, ‘Sir Geoffrey de Langley and the Crisis of the Knightly Class in Thirteenth‐Century England’, Past and Present 68 (1975), 3–37; repr. in T. H. Aston (ed.), Landlords, Peasants and Politics in Medieval England (Cambridge, 1987).