James Masschaele

title.none: Bailey, ed., The English Manor (James Masschaele)

identifier.other: baj9928.0406.010 04.06.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: James Masschaele, Rutgers,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Bailey, Mark, ed. The English Manor c. 1200-c. 1500. Series: Manchester Medieval Sources Series. Manchester UK: Manchester University Press, 2002. Pp. xiv, 258. ISBN: $29.95 0-7190-5229-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.06.10

Bailey, Mark, ed. The English Manor c. 1200-c. 1500. Series: Manchester Medieval Sources Series. Manchester UK: Manchester University Press, 2002. Pp. xiv, 258. ISBN: $29.95 0-7190-5229-7.

Reviewed by:

James Masschaele

For anyone teaching medieval agrarian history, Mark Bailey's edition of source material related to the English manorial system will come as a welcome addition. The work contains a collection of documents that are well chosen to illustrate both the standard features of English manors and the great variety of conditions characterizing life in the medieval countryside. It contains affinities with J. Z. Titow's collection of documents published in 1969 (English Rural Society 1200-1500), but with a badly needed updating of the critical apparatus accompanying the documents and a much fuller selection of sources.

Bailey begins the work with a useful introductory chapter that discusses the origins and basic characteristics of manors. He furnishes a particularly good account of the longstanding debates about the early history of manors, and also draws attention to the great variety in the forms of manorial structure, a theme that is successfully developed throughout the course of the book. Indeed, one of the work's greatest virtues is its ability to describe general traits without losing sight of the diversity of local conditions in the period. The remainder of the book contains three discrete sections, each devoted to a particular type of source. The first section deals with surveys and extents, probably the most useful sources for conveying a general sense of the basic structure of manors. Bailey includes among the selected documents an example of a manor having several extents made at different points in time to illustrate how manorial conditions changed over time, and also includes a number of different types of survey, ranging from the exceptionally detailed survey of the Ely manor of Hartest in 1251 to the truncated description of a lord's manorial buildings in Salton in 1479.

The second section of the book is devoted to manorial accounts. Accounts are generally the most straightforward and direct sources dealing with the economic management of manorial resources. Bailey gives several examples of complete account rolls to illustrate the full range of material commonly found in these sources, but wisely chose to limit the number of such examples to allow inclusion of a number of more unusual ancillary documents, such as a bailiff's memorandum of receipts in Lackford in the mid-fifteenth century and an interesting letter from a lord to a local bailiff conveying instructions to sell grain from the manor to pay off one of the lord's debts. Bailey also includes extracts from some longer accounts to illustrate the variety of material that can be found within what are otherwise fairly standardized sources, such as an account of the disposition of tenant labor services and an account of expenses incurred to build a new barn.

In the third section of the book, Bailey focuses on manorial court records. These are the most idiosyncratic of the three main types of document included in the book but also the most revelatory about the real experiences of people living on manors. Their diversity requires particularly difficult choices about what to include as representative. Bailey's selection tends to favor manors with secular lordship and also tends to favor areas of the country that did not practice open-field agriculture. There is some merit to this decision, in that the court records of traditional ecclesiastical estates have been privileged in much existing scholarship, but a work that aims to survey relevant documents probably should not have given such short shrift to material that is particularly rich and evocative of manorial conditions. On a more positive note, Bailey provides a number of interesting examples of documents that he rightly describes as unusual extensions of manorial jurisdiction, including some fifteenth-century market courts and a court held on a coastal manor to adjudicate rights to the debris of wrecked ships.

Overall, the quality of the editing and translation of the documents is good, although not without problems. Bailey claims in the introduction to have consulted the original manuscript sources of the material included in the book and to his credit provides references to earlier editions or translations. There are, however, a few errors in basic diplomatics, such as the misdating of a court held in Downham in 1311 (210, where the correct date is one day earlier than that given in the text). The most problematic error in this regard is the attribution of a list of frankpledge articles to the Statute of Winchester of 1285 (221). In the printed edition of the Statutes of the Realm, cited as the source of the list, the document is described as belonging to the reign of Edward II, although it does appear immediately after a document of uncertain date attributed to the Statute of Winchester. Similar problems can be found in some of Bailey's translations. Though generally accurate, the translations tend to be directly literal and thus sometimes come across poorly when expressed in modern English. A reference to the first Norman king as "Willelmus bastardus," for example, yields "William Bastard" in the English translation and the Domesday term "servus" becomes "servant" rather than "slave" (44). The emphasis on literal rendering also makes the meaning of the original document unnecessarily opaque in a number of cases. That a villein had to "awn barley" (73) may be technically accurate but nonetheless problematic. A reference to a woman "who hath been ravished" (225) is probably just a harmless archaism, as is the term "customars" (70) used to refer to customary tenants. But the meaning of someone making "an affray upon" (228-229) someone else is probably too recondite for most people in the book's intended audience, as are the circumstances under which someone would "go on message for thieves" (.222). A glossary at the back of the book resolves some of the problems associated with the numerous technical terms in the book, but a glossary is a poor substitute for a clear and elegant translation.

In addition to editing and translating a wide array of documents, Bailey also provides interpretive essays for each section of the book as well as brief comments on each document. The brief comments are helpful and often draw attention to interesting or unusual features of particular documents. But the interpretive essays fall short of true mastery of the material. They are full of statements that are at best misleading and at worst simply wrong. It is not accurate to describe the Quo Warranto proceedings as belonging to the 1280s (p. x.; many did take place in the 1280s, but many also took place before and after that decade). It is problematic to assert that "the unfree were persistently prevented from holding free land" (26). It is not true that manorial jurors were rarely named before the fifteenth century (174) or that presentment juries were not a "prominent feature" of manor courts before the end of the fourteenth century (174). It is misleading to imply that common law did not allow widows to hold land while customary law did (29). It is erroneous to suggest that Justices of the Peace began to encroach on the jurisdiction of leet courts only in the early modern period (188). There is every reason to be sympathetic to an author trying to write a short interpretive essay that covers such a broad range of material, but the problems just cited involve major issues in the field, not trivial matters of personal preference that somehow come out in the wash.

To be fair to Bailey, though, it must also be said that the field of medieval agrarian history has developed with a striking dearth of synthesis, meaning that the author had an uneven secondary literature to draw upon for a project of this nature. Detailed studies of local conditions are legion, but attempts to draw up balance sheets based on these local studies have been few and far between. By drawing up such a balance sheet, Bailey has done the field a real service. He has provided a body of translations that will make the task of teaching the field easier and more rewarding, along with an up-to-date bibliography and a wide-ranging survey of important secondary literature. Even the book's blemishes may prove to be of some service, if they spur others to probe more deeply into areas that clearly need fuller development. To have accomplished so much in a 250 page book of documents designed for student use is no mean feat.