Manorial and Other Feudal Titles



In the late twentieth century English "lordships" of manors have become marketable commodities, despite the fact that few of them bring with them little more than a meagre bundle of documents and an archaic title. Because of the similarity of these titles to the British peerage titles, many would-be purchasers are deluded into believing that they are buying a genuine title with some degree of genuine social kudos. Unfortunately this is not the case and, regrettably, it has to be admitted that many purchasers have in reality been defrauded of a large amount of money.

There was a case recently where an American gentleman was persuaded to part with a large amount of dollars in return for a "lordship" of a manor which he was led to believe brought him the right to occupy the eighteenth carriage in the Queen Mother's Birthday Parade. Some of us might laugh at such obvious naïvity, but the purveyors of such titles can be very plausible and to a foreigner, who tends to view the British love of pomp and ceremony through a filter largely created by the late Walt Disney, a concept such as "the eighteenth carriage in the Queen Mother's Birthday Parade" does not seem unimaginable.

In the following sections I hope to show the origins and history of the English lordship of the manor, to contrast them with their Scottish and Irish cousins and to point out some of the realities that one should be aware of before parting with a large amount of hard earned money.

English Lordships of the Manor

Feudalism was the political and social system that developed as a result of the breakdown of strong, central government at the end of the Roman Empire. Its basis was the holding of land from a powerful local patron, who afforded protection in return. The person who held land of a superior lord, and had sworn homage to him, was known as a vassal. Under the Carolingian kings of France, the vassal relationship became extended to include the large landed proprietors and the king. In this form the institution was introduced into England by William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, following the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

From the Conquest, all the land of England was owned by the king alone, and he enfeoffed all of it, except his own royal demesnes, to earls, barons and others in return for their liability for military service. The person holding feudal land directly of the king was known as a tenant-in-chief.

The service required was based upon the constabularia of ten knights. An important tenant-in-chief might be expected to provide one or more of these units, and lesser tenants-in-chief, half of one. To obtain such knights for the king's service, the tenants-in-chief sub-infeuded some of their land. Sub-infeudation was the process by which a tenant-in-chief granted one or more of his fees to a sub-tenant. The sub-infeuding process then continued downwards to a lord of a single manor, representing only a fraction of a knight's fee. In the feudal hierarchy, the mesne lord was the lord in the middle, ie the lord of a manor who held (was the sub-tenant) of a superior lord, but was himself the superior lord of a lord holding one or more of his manors. The feudal service required of the sub-tenant might be knight service, or a portion of it, or something purely nominal such as the provision of a falcon or a rose at midsummer. A stop was put to any further sub-infeudation of fees by the Statute of Quia Emptores in 1291. Knight service itself was abolished in 1662.

The manor was the basic unit of estate administration. Typically the inhabitants of the early manor included villeins, bound to the land, cottagers, and one or more freeholding franklins. Over a large part of England the typical manor contained a village with a church, and agricultural land consisting of two, or more, usually three, large arable fields in which the inhabitants held scattered strips. The lord's own demesne might be scattered strips or in a consolidated block, tending more to the latter as time went by. The land near the local stream was the meadow, where grass was grown for hay, and the less lush grassland was the permanent pasture for the beasts of the manor. There would usually also be some woodland. Each villein's tenement (his holding) entitled him to a certain number of strips of arable land, and grazing for a certain number of cattle and sheep.

An important part of manorial administration was the manor court, a periodic meeting of the tenantry, presided over by the lord of the manor or his steward. Every manorial court was a Court Baron, which administered the agriculture of the manor, the lord's and tenants' rights and duties, changes of occupancy, and disputes between tenants; some manorial courts were also a Court Leet, which covered the election of contables, aletesters and some other officials, and what would now be called police matters (for example, maintenance of the lock-up, disturbances of the peace, and so on).

The origins of the manorial court are lost in antiquity, but treatises on procedure were being written as early as the thirteenth century. Usually a majority of tenants held land by villein (unfree) tenure, but there were usually freeholders too, whose tenure was protected by the royal courts. In the course of the later middle ages the constraints on villeins declined, but this so-called customary tenure continued under the sole jurisdiction of the manorial court. It was only in the sixteenth century that royal courts began to protect customary tenure, known as copyhold, because on entry into the holding the tenant was given a copy of the court's record of the fact as a title deed.

During the nineteenth century the holding of manor courts gradually came to an end, and in 1925 copyhold tenure formally ended in accordance with the Law of Property Acts, 1922 and 1924.

Since 1926, all court rolls and other manorial records have had to be reported to the Master of the Rolls on request as also any changes in their ownership and custody. The Historical Manuscripts Commission maintains a Manorial Documents Register, which takes the form of two series. The first, arranged under parishes, shows the names of the manor or manors in each parish; the second, arranged under manors, shows the last-known whereabouts of the manorial records. In a great many instances the solicitors of manorial families are still the custodians of the rolls, but many have been deposited at County Record Offices. The Public Record Office and the British Library have considerable deposits, but the majority of manorial records have failed to survive.

In English Law the holding of a lordship of the manor is treated as being distinct from the actual lands of the manor. The holding, i.e. the title of lord of the manor, is regarded as being an incorporeal heridatament and is thus capable of being sold and purchased as property in its own right. It is this facility to enable landowners to raise money by disposing of their feudal

Baronage of Scotland

A Scottish feudal barony is land that has by charter been erected by the Crown (or sometimes by a high noble) in liberam baronium, giving the owner, whether by inheritance or by purchase, a whole bundle of land, mineral, and other rights, including certain rights of public justice, privileges not belonging to ordinary estates.

The holders of these baronies are termed Barons (or Baronesses), as distinct from the Lords of Parliament (the Scottish equivalent of the English Barons). Although similar to the Lords of the Manor, Scottish Barons are like continental barons in nobiliary status. Their interests are looked after by the Convention of the Baronage of Scotland.

A Scottish baron has various armorial prerogatives not unlike those of a peer, including a cap of maintenance, supporters, a barred helm garnished with gold, a robe or mantle, uniquely specified flags and, as befits the ancient institution, a Baron Court. A baron of Scotland is also permitted two pipers, each displaying an armorial pipe banner.

The tinctures and furring of the chapeau or cap of maintenance form several categories:

  1. Gules furred Ermine: a Baron of the Kingdom of Scotland, in possession of the barony;
  2. Azure furred Ermine: the heir to such a Baron, no longer in possession (called "the Representer of the Baronial House of X");
  3. Gules furred Ermines: a Baron of Argull and the Isles, or of one the older Earldoms, still in possession;
  4. Azure furred Ermines: the heir to such a Baron, no longer in possession.

The cap is depicted ensigning the shield of arms, beneath the helm and crest. The robe, or mantle, may be displayed draped (very much in the European fashion) behind the achievement actually in posssession of a barony, and is described as a feuso-baronial Mantle, Gules doubled of silk Argent, fur edged of miniver and collar Ermine, and fastened on the right shoulder by five spherical buttons Or. The Scottish feudal baronial helm is of steel with one or three grilles (one being by far the more usual) garnished with gold. The helm is normally shown facing dexter but may be shown affronty. Supporters may be used by the heirs of baronies held before 1587, and possibly for baronies held between that date and 1627 (the point is not fully resolved). On the matter of flags, a Scottish baron may adorn the top of his flagstaff with a cap of maintenance, and employ, as he sees fit, standards, guidons and pennons.

The most recent form of style and title for Barons is, e.g., "Charles Gairdner of Lethendy, Baron of Lethendy", and for Baronesses, e.g., "Joan Cranfield Moneypenny of Pitmilly, Lady Pitmilly, Baroness of Pitmilly". The full style may include the prefix "The Much Honoured". Older styles, which included for example "Mistress Viola Stirling of Gargunnock, Lady of the Barony of Gargunnock" and "Madame Douglas of Brigton", may presumably continue in use for those who have been thus recorded. The Lyon Court has officially revived the ancient address, in speech, of, e.g., "Lady Pitmilly". The wife of a Baron may use a similar style.

Some barons use the title "of that Ilk". The word Ilk comes from the Anglo-Saxon and means same. Thus "Dundas of Dundas" is "Dundas of the Same" or correctly "Dundas of that Ilk". The origin of this usage is lowland, and the highland chiefs used to call themselves only by their clan name, i.e. MacLeod, MacGregor, etc., but did not find this sufficient in the capital. Therefore, and not to confuse themselves with the Lowland Lairds, they began to use their name twice and this is why we have The MacLeod of MacLeod, The MacGregor of MacGregor, etc.

The holder of a barony which was formerly held directly from the King has always been entitled to use the style "The Laird of Lethendy". This style should not be used by holders of baronies formerly held from a great lord, but in practice it is nowadays extended to all holders of baronies.

Unlike peers, Barons may not sign with their territorial titles alone, but must use the form, e.g, "Charles Gairdner of Lethendy", or "C. Gairdner of Lethendy", with initials "C.G. of L.".

As in England a lord of the manor had his local court, so in Scotland the holder of a feudal barony has, implicitly, a Baron Court. The president of such a court is a Baron-Baillie and the chief officer a Baron-Sergeant (or Baron-Officer). The insignia of a Baron-Baillie is a flat cap of justice, environed by two guards of braid and usually in the livery colours of the baron concerned. A very few Baron-Baillies have gowns, badges and pendants relevant to the estate they serve. The symbols of office of the Baron-Sergeant (or Baron-Officer) are a white Ell-wand (or Wand of Peace), one Scots ell in length (approximately thirty-seven inches), together with a horn.

Irish Titles

Irish titles fall into two distinct groups: the titles belonging to the ancient Gaelic royal houses, and those feudal titles introduced after the Norman conquest of Ireland.

The Royal Houses of Ireland

The Irish royal houses are acknowledged by most genealogists to be the oldest traceable dynasties in Europe, descending as they do from kings who were regnant before the conversion of Constantine the Great in AD 311. Prior to the Norman invasion of Ireland in the late twelth century the island was divided into a number of provincial kingdoms (rather like those of Anglo-Saxon England), all of which, in theory, were subject to the High King who ruled from Tara. In reality the position of the High King was more sacerdotal than magisterial, although a few individual holders of the High Kingship, such as Brian Boru, did almost succeed in converting it into a real over-lordship.

Although the number of provincial kingships varied, five principal ones came to have a permanent existence, namely those of Ulster, Munster, Leinster, Connaught and Meath (the latter kingdom being the appanage of the High King, and including his seat of Tara). For several centuries the High Kingship was disputed between the kings of the Ui Niall dynasty (Ulster) and the kings of the Eoghanaghta dynasty (Munster), before the former succeeded in obtaining a more or less secure monopoly of this title. The idea of a vacillating right of succession to the High Kingship did, however, remain a reality, and as late as the eleventh centurt Brian Boru, a Dalcasian prince who has succeeded to the Throne of Munster, claiming descent from the Eoghanaghta, successfully contested the High Kingship.

Beneath the provincial kings were smaller kingships, whose dynasties were of equal antiquity to the provincial royal houses. Examples of these are: O'Brien (kings of Thomond), O'Brennan (kings of Ossory) and O'Donnel (kings of Tyrconnel).

Upon the arrival of Henry II in Ireland the following royal houses enjoyed the sovereignties of their respective provincial kingdoms:

These dynasties continued to rule as independent princes, under the lordship of the kings of England, for several centuries and were repeatedly recognized as such by that Crown. Following upon the Reformation, and the determined process of Anglicization pursued by the English government in the later fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the Gaelic principalities finally collapsed, with a large number of clan chiefs emigrating to continental Europe.

All but the royal house of Leinster have continued to exist down to the present time, and their respective chiefs are recognized as such by the Chief Herald of Ireland, acting on behalf of the Irish government. According to the received principles of International Law, these chiefs are entitled to use the style of "Prince", and indeed some do. As recently as the 1890s the Holy See recognized The O'Neill of Clanaboy as a "Most Serene Highness".

A Note by Dr Patrick O'Shea

By the time the Kingdom of Desmond collapsed after the death of Donal IX MacCarthy Mór in 1596, a fairly extensive feudal system had evolved under the MacCarthy kings. This is reflected in the gradual change in terminology in the Irish annals. In the early Middle Ages the term ri or king was, almost without exception, applied to any chieftain or ruler of a territory, regardless of size or importance. Gradually, other terms began to replace ri which more accurately reflected a hierarchy (such as tiarna or Lord and ard tiarna or High Lord/Paramount Lord). Of course, the system was never as stratified as that of the British or Continental nobility, but the system was clearly feudal in nature, with the MacCarthy kings as the ultimate authority within the Provincial Kingdom of Munster.

As such, the MacCarthy kings of Desmond continued to grant territories and titles to vassal lords throughout the period before 1596. As mentioned earlier, the current representatives of these ancient royal houses are recognized as having the style of Prince in the eyes of International Law. This also recognizes the continuing rights of such princes to any titles, orders or other incorporeal prerogatives which existed when the house was regnant.

In Desmond it was the accepted practice that any lordship which was not specifically granted to a vassal remained the demesne land of the King of Desmond. If a territory was left devoid of vassal lords through extinction of valid male heirs, expulsion of a vassal for various reasons, or through other events, the territory and title revetted back to the Royal House. Of course, since 1596, the actual control of territories has undergone several transformations, and the current Republic and its laws govern the transfer and ownership of land and physical property. However, the titles, as incorporeal property, have reverted to the control of the Royal House of Desmond. The current representative of that House has the right, as recognized by International Law, to re-grant these titles on a hereditary basis as he sees fit.

Most members of the Peerage of Desmond do not style themselves as Baron or Count (although a few do), but instead prefer the older, less stratified terminology of Tiarna or Ard Tiarna (Lord or Paramount Lord in English translation. However, the title of Tiarna in considered to be a rank of baronial status within the Peerage of Desmond, and Ard Tiarna is considered to be a rank of comital status (these are, of course, only rough equivalents). There are, as pointed out earlier, herediatary "Princes" of the ancient Gaelic aristocracy, though below the level of the Provincial Kings. The princes, however, may be distinguished from the Desmond peers, in that their titles are hereditary and non-feudal in nature. In many respects, they have the same standing as the current Princes of the Provincial Kingdoms, except that their former territories were considerably smaller than those of the Provincial Kings. In many cases these are the cadet families of the more powerful Provincial Royal Houses.

The Gaelic titled nobility is distinct from the Anglo-Norman nobility in several important ways:

  1. Gaelic titles were (and still are) passed on by tanistry instead of primogeniture
  2. Gaelic feudal titles have only a very rudimentary system of precedence (Tiarna, Ard Tiarna, Prince, Prince of a Royal House)
  3. The Gaelic feudal lords enjoyed a more independent status than that of their Anglo-Norman counterparts

It is also important to note that the policy of "Surrender and Regrant" by the English Crown in the 16th century produced a number of Gaelic Irish Kings, Princes, and other nobles who also held English titles. For example, The O'Brien, Prince of Thomond, is also Lord Inchiquin in the British Peerage. However, it is generally accepted that the acceptance of these titles was, in most cases, simply a concession to placate the English Crown. Generally speaking, the Gaelic kingdoms continued to operate as before, with autonomy, until the beginning of the 17th century.

Anglo-Norman Feudal Titles

Following the Norman invasion of Ireland under Henry II, a feudal system similar to that in use in England was introduced into Ireland. Initially restricted to the "Pale", the area around Dublin, it was gradually introduced to almost the whole of the island.

The Irish barons were in origin very similar to their English counterparts, but never evolved into an hereditary peerage as happened with the English baronage.

Irish barons use similar titles and styles to the Scottish barons but do not have the armorial prerogatives enjoyed by the Scots.

There are two hereditary titles in the FitzGerald family ("The Knight of Kerry" and "The Knight of Glin") which, although feudal in origin, are not baronies as such. Both of these titles are of considerable antiquity.

Caveat Emptor!

As will have been seen from the above brief descriptions, whilst Scottish and Irish baronial titles have a genuine standing and prestige, the English lordship of a manor is, in contrast, somewhat less generous to its holder.

Despite what fraudulent salemen might like to claim, being an English lord of the manor does NOT give you:

It is very rare that a manorial title is sold with any substantial mineral or land rights, but certain other rights may be available, such as grazing , sporting and fishing, as well as permission to collect tolls or hold a village fair. For example, the Lord of the Manor of Barton-upon-Humber has the right to hold a regular market and the Lord of the Manor of Worksop has the right to present a glove to the Sovereign at his or her Coronation. But the majority of manorial titles merely consist of a title and, if you are lucky, a few rolls of old, decaying documents.

In the last few years there has sprung up a definite market in the purchase and sale of manorial titles and in many ways these titles should best be viewed as "off the wall" investments and not treated too seriously. Their value depends on location, hitory and the accompanying rights. To give an indication of the current state of the market in these titles, at a sale held in London on 6 December 1995 the following titles were sold:

There are various reputable agents who will ascertain the availability of manorial titles and advise on their genuineness and historical value, as well as giving general advice on such titles.