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Life in the medieval manor. Derling Salazar & Katie Papp. Manor. "primarily an economic organization, it could maintain a warrior, but it could equally well maintain a capitalist landlord. It could be self-sufficient, yield produce for the market, or it could yield a money rent .“

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life in the medieval manor

Life in the medieval manor.

Derling Salazar & Katie Papp.


"primarily an economic organization, it could maintain a warrior, but it could equally well maintain a capitalist landlord. It could be self-sufficient, yield produce for the market, or it could yield a money rent.“

Andrew Jones, "The Rise and Fall of the Manorial System: A Critical Comment"

A manor was the section of land over which a lord had domain and could exercise certain rights and privileges in medieval Western Europe. A typical manor would include a manor house which was built apart from the village where the peasants lived. Life in the medieval manors was based upon the principles of manorialism or seigneuralism.


Manorialism was one of the foundations essential of the feudal system in Medieval Europe. In manorialism, the Lord of the manor exploited the serfs or tenants who worked his estate; manorialism involved a hierarchy of reciprocal obligations that exchanged labor or rents for access to land.


Under feudalism, power was heavily concentrated among the nobility, while the vast majority of the population (peasants/slaves) had no power nor significant wealth whatsoever.

everyday life
Everyday life.

The manors themselves where almost completely self-sufficient, and only needed to import occasional finished goods like books, sewing needles, or imported luxury goods. The manor consisted of a castle or manor house, a village dependent on the castle, farmland, and commons. The village had a church, houses, and basic businesses such as a blacksmith’s shop. The commons was an area from which people might cut grass for winter feed, or on which they might allow their animals to roam free to feed off of the cut stubble.

land use
Land use.

The largest amount of land on the manor would be used by the peasants. Their house would be surrounded by a yard called a 'toft' and a garden called a 'croft'. This land would be used for growing crops and vegetables, a percentage of which would be given to a knight as 'payment' for their land. Peasant's houses were one-roomed and the family shared the space with the animals.

manor house
Manor house.

The manor house was typically a large fortified mansion (similar to what we refer today as a chateau); the manor house[s] were the homes of the lord, hence opulence was the norm. Arranged for defense against robbers and thieves, it was often surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge, and equipped with small gatehouses and watchtowers . The primary feature of the manor-house was its great hall, to which subsidiary apartments were added as the lessening of feudal warfare permitted more peaceful domestic life.


Some manor-houses, such as the IghthamMote were considered modest by medieval standards…

while the Washington Old Home was an example of ancestral materialism.

life around the church
Life around the church.

The church was the central institution during the Middle Ages; the Catholic Church (as we refer to it nowadays) controlled medieval life until the Protestant Reformation. Every manor had a church on its grounds, and all residents of the manor, from the peasants to the nobles, had the obligation of attending mass every Sunday.

church cont d
Church, cont’d.

The church was the main protector of the culture. In addition, every person’s rite of passage was centered around the church (birth, baptism, marriage, and death).

agriculture farming

During the Middle Ages, farming was the chief, and perhaps the only, economic activity in Europe; the sustenance of the manors depended on the farming done by the peasants. By today’s standards, medieval faming was primitive, as only metal tipped ploughs for turning over the soil and harrows to cover up the soil were the only tools available. The summer was the only productive harvesting season; the slightest of rain downpours could destroy an entire crop, making it difficult for farmers to pay their taxes. In some manors, lords hired reeve employees to keep peasants from stealing.

decline of the manor
Decline of the manor.

The system of manorialism, which flourished during the 8th century, quickly began to deteriorate by the 13th century (in Easter Europe the system achieved strength during the 15th century) in Western Europe; the Black Plague and the Hundred Years’ War caused the down bringing of the medieval manor . The bubonic plague caused Europe to lose any sense of authority, up to the point where the Catholic Church had to install a papacy in Avignon rather than Rome.

The Magna Carta was also a cornerstone in the decline of feudalism; the Magna Carta re-established the balance of power between the king and his subjects, thus reducing feudalism & manorialism.


Although manorialism was strictly a Western European institution, several kingdoms across Europe developed their own standardized systems of land partition; for example, the Forwarks were the giant farms that operated in the Crown of Poland from the 14th century until the early 20th century. The Spanish also developed the encomienda system and built giant haciendas across New Spain during the 16th and 17th centuries. Manorialism existed briefly in North America under the title of a patroon, who was a landholder with manorial rights to large tracts of land in the 17th century Dutch colony of New Netherland in North America (notably along the Hudson River in New York).

effects of the manor on modern europe
Effects of the manor on modern Europe.

Although the classic system of manorialism perished by the time of the Renaissance, it influenced Europe up until the time of WWII. Social inequality was the norm for European society even after the Middle Ages; while the nobility and business owners enjoyed a large portion of the economy (especially during the Industrial Revolution) the vast majority of the population worked as underpaid farmers or business owners up until the 1960’s when social reforms made Europe a near-egalitarian society.

Manorialism also helped many monarchs develop the colonial system, which transformed Europe into the world’s richest region during the Modern Era. The principles of colonialism were based on feudalism, and they included:

* The profits to be made.

* To expand the power of the metropole.

*To escape persecution in the metropole.

*To spread the colonists way of life including religious and political beliefs


In Scotland, the system of land tenure was until recently overwhelmingly feudal in nature. Unique in England, the village of Laxton in Nottinghamshire continues to retain some vestiges of the feudal system, where the land is still farmed using the open field system. The feudal court now only meets annually, with its authority now restricted to management of the farmland.

In contrast to Europe where feudalism created a strong central power, it took a strong central power to develop feudalism in Russia. A lack of true central power weakened and doomed Russia' to outside domination. Russia developed its system of land/lord/worker, loosely called feudalism, after it had created a strong central power. Feudalism/manorialism in Russia continued until the 20th century.


"manor house." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 23 Aug. 2010 <>.

"manorialism." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 23 Aug. 2010 <>.


Andrew Jones, "The Rise and Fall of the Manorial System: A Critical Comment" The Journal of Economic History32.4 (December 1972:938-944) p. 938; a comment on D. North and R. Thomas, "The rise and fall of the manorial system: a theoretical model", The Journal of Economic History31 (December 1971:777-803).