MANOR SYSTEM (MANORIALISM)
The Manor System (Manorialism) was a key feature of society in the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages (or Medieval Period) in Europe extended from approximately 500 CE after the fall of the Roman Empire to 1500 CE with the start of the Renaissance. Throughout the timeframe of the Middle Ages, European society was primarily based on the social structure of feudalism. The Manor System in Europe was very significant to the overall Feudal System, especially in Western Europe where it is best associated.
The Manor System in Western Europe during the Middle Ages emerged out of the earlier villa system that was common in the Roman Empire. While the Roman Empire collapsed in Western Europe in the 5th century, the practice of the villa system continued throughout the region and became known as Manorialism.
In general, Manorialism was a system of landholding common in Medieval Europe in which a feudal lord lived in and operated a country home (manor) with attached farm land, woodlands and villages. The land was for the use of the lord of the manor with surrounding homes in the farmland and villages that contained spaces for serfs (villein) who were tenants to the lord of the manor. The purpose of the Manor System was to organize society and to create agricultural goods. For instance, the feudal lord of the manor was responsible for providing wealth and assistance to higher lords or the monarchy, while peasants (or serfs) were responsible for working on the land of the feudal lord. The feudal lord of the manor made wealth by collecting taxes and fees from the peasants on his feudal land. For example, the peasants were forced to pay fees for use of the manor’s mill, bakery and wine-press along with other related charges, such as: the right to hunt or allow livestock to feed on the manor’s lands.
As stated above, the Manor System was essentially a landholding system in which feudal lords controlled large sections of agricultural land. As such, the lands of a manor consisted of several main features, including: demesne, dependent, and free peasant land. Demesne refers to the land that was kept by the lord of the manor that is used for the benefit of the household. Dependent refers to the obligation that peasants (serfs) were required to provide the lord of the manor with services or cash in exchange for the land in which they lived and worked. Finally, free peasant land referred to land that had no obligation of service but it still required payment of rent or fees.
The manor house was historically associated with medieval castles, but it could also include a much simpler structure that included a stately home made out of wood or stone. Regardless, the manor house was larger and better maintained than the housing of the serfs, which usually just amounted to small homes constructed out of wood and mud.
The Manor System varied in use and function throughout the Middle Ages and Europe. For instance, not all manors contained the elements listed above, but these were the main elements of a manor throughout much of western Europe in the Middle Ages. As well, life for the serfs in these manors varied greatly. Serfdom is a key component of the Manor System and important to understand when learning about the Middle Ages, feudalism and life for people at the time.
Manorialism as a social concept ended as European society transformed through the major events of the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and French Revolution. It was replaced with the emergence of capitalism and the principles of private property and economic freedom made popular by Adam Smith in the 18th century.