Monday, 14 October 2013

From Bocland to Feodum, and the Great Semicolon in the History of England

Bookland (Old English: bocland) was a type of land tenure under Anglo-Saxon law, referring to land that was vested by and granted in perpetuity by charter. In contrast, land held without a charter was known as folkland (Old English: folcland), which was land held under ancient, unwritten folk-law or custom, by which it could not be alienated from the kin of the holder, except under special circumstances, whereas Bookland could be conveyed to anyone else at will. The charters defining bookland generally contained the preconditions which the holders had to perform, for example, the trinodia necessitas, that is, the upkeep of bridges and fortifications on the land, and the provision of fyrd , or military service for the king's host. It was this right of Harold be able to assemble a fyrd from the chartered holders of bookland which was especially and heavily used by King Harold in 1066, for his military campaigns to resist the invasions of Harold Hardrada of Norway and William of Normandy.

Thegns generally lived on chartered bookland , of at least 5 hides in size each, and by their position in society they were required to provide military service for the king. Indeed the duty of finding well armed warriors for the king's host was territorialised; every five hides was expected to furnish a soldier, in addition the thegn was expected personally to attend the host with adequate equipment.

Thegns often had the right of sake and soke over the peasants who inhabited their lands, that is they had the right to set up their own local courts of justice. Grants of sake and soke allowed the grantee to intercept the fines and other profits of justice arising from own estate which might otherwise have gone to the king. Thegns in this way could enrich themselves. Thegns were early lords of the manor.

The Church held lands in Anglo-Saxon times generally assigned under a special bookright, one which was exempt from taxation and immune from the trinoda necessitas. Their land was held in frank-almoign [free alms, in pura et perpetua eleemosyna]; essentially the church's landholders were expected to provide spiritual rather than military service in exchange for their land rights.
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The Conquest was a huge historical caesura in terms of the legal rights of land tenure before and those which appertained afterwards.

Between his coronation in 1066 and 1070 there were many rebellions aginst William and his regime, including one which tried to establish Edgar the Aetheling as the legitimate king. Any and all the rebellions were ruthlessly put down by William.

For example there were especially the events known as Harrying of the North. The men of the North were Anglo-Danes. This was the lands of the former Danelaw. The natural inclination of the inhabitants of these lands was rather to look to Scandinavia for their kingship rather than to the South. The kings of Wessex had only managed to rule over them by granting special concessions: for example, king Edgar promised to renew the laws of king Knut in their lands, granting legal autonomy to the inhabitants of the North in return for their loyalty. The North had now rebelled against William with backing from Scandinavia in support of Edgar the Aetheling's claim. Clearly William could not trust them, for indeed who also had supported the invasion by the Norwegian Vikings in 1066? During a ruthless campaign in 1069-70, William laid complete waste to the lands of the North. In a scorched earth programme a very considerable area of their land was salted, to destroy its productivity a sitatuation which lasted for many decades to come. The survivors of William's campaign were reduced in many cases to cannibalism. A large proportion of the population of the North, as a consequence, died of starvation.

Starting soon after the conquest William launched a formal legal programme to confiscate in a wholesale fashion all of the lands of those anglo-saxon magnates and thegns who had fought against him. He declared that all of Wessex and East Anglia had collectively rebelled against him, and that, as a consequence, all the lands of these territories were forfeit to him. All the former anglo-saxon folkland became terra Regis [king's land]. It became his personal property to do with as he willed. He also sequestered all the lands formerly belonging to the Godwinssons and the anglo-saxon king as his by right. He now owned all of these lands by conquest. Those anglo-saxon magnates and earls who had taken up arms against him were to be apprehended, some of whom were put to death, and others banished or imprisoned. Lanfranc, the future archbishop of Canterbury urged William to treat the conquered peoples of England leniently and justly. So William applied following logic and formula.

Harold was considered to have been a traitor, as he had broken his oath to him, and by extension all those who had fought alongside him at the Battle of Hastings were to be considered traitors too, and, by implication, subject to the forfeiture of their lands to the king.

1. William seized, as overlord, all the lands of those Anglo-Saxon lords who were killed at the Battle of Hastings [and Stamford Bridge].

2. Those who had fought against him at Hastings, but who had not participated in the rebellions, but who were still alive could now submit and swear fealty to him, and have their lands returned to them under conditions, such as by the payment of a huge pledge for their lands, as guarantee. He would become their overlord, owner their land, and they would now merely be tenants or vassals.

3. However, those who had rebelled against him after his coronation, were guilty of treason. All their land was escheat and was to be confiscated forthwith, and they were to be banished, sent into exile or become outlaws.

It was by these means and in this fashion that William became overlord of nearly the whole land: almost every acre in England became his personal property. But he did so carefully acknowledging that he would maintain continutit with that had gone before and preserve all the rights that had been observed under Edward the Confessor.

With his new a vast personal domain he created many castleries or honours, about up to 180 territories scattered throughout all the shires. Each of these was to have a castle at its centre, and from them William could raise many thousands of knights for his personal army and for the defence of his realm. These honours were assigned to several of his loyal followers, especially those who had participated in his campaign to become king.

During the year after the Conquest much of the remainder of the lands he distributed to his own family and members of the loyal and important Norman baronage, those who had also joined in his adventure to conquer England and establish him as king. This involved about 10 to 12 persons. Each of them was given a shire, an earldom; new legal contracts of tenure were drawn up, which were largely the same as those which operated in Normandy, using the same kind of general principles of land tenure which operated there. He thereby created baronies. These magnates held their lands or earldoms  per baroniam ... de rege [as a baron ... granted by and from the king] subject to condition of the feudal obligation of servitium debitum [the provision of military service for the king]: they were contracted to supply so many knights ready for war when the king required it [or the equivalent in cash]. These barons or magnates held their lands in capite [tenants-in-chief], which gave them the right to be summoned by the king by writ to give their counsel or advice at his Great Councils three times a year or whenever required it.

These chiefs or lords again, on their part, granted portions of their allocated territories to  their principal knights and retainers below them, also to be held on the condition of provision military service: this was called sub-infeudation. These contracts were separate from the king's contract with the tenant-in-chief, but those under the magnates were required to swear fealty to the king as above that of their lord.

In his work 'From Thegnage to Barony: Sake and Soke, Title, and Tenants-in-chief', Anglo-Norman Studies 12, (1990), 157-76. Roffe states that 

"baronies represent pre-Conquest estates in both form and composition. Some embraced two or three bookland estates, and all were subject to new lords.

The 'Norman Settlement' was thus virtually a fait accompli by 1085. The process of transferring land from Anglo-Saxon antecedents to the incoming aristocracy was comprehensive and efficiently carried out, partly because one of the structures of pre-conquest lordship, namely the parcels of bookland, which had been held by the Anglo-Saxon thegns with sake and soke was largely preserved during this process."

During 1070 almost all the anglo-saxon bishops, important abbots and priors were deposed and replaced with clergy from Normandy. Under anglo-saxon law the land held by the church was held in frank-almoign or in pura et perpetua eleemosyna, The new Norman bishops and abbots were brought under a tenure of barony like the earls, a personal contract between the individual bishop  or abbot and the king. The land was held per baroniam and they had to provide a quota of knights to the king when required. Their barony gave them right to sit in the Magnum Consilium.


John Hudson (2012). The Oxford History of the Laws of England Volume II: 871-1216. Chapter 5: Land: OUP Oxford. pp. 93–. ISBN 978-0-19-163003-3.

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Anglo-Norman Studies 34
Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2011
Edited by David Bates
July 2012, Pages: 288
Published by: Boydell Press, an imprint of Boydell & Brewer
eISBN: 978-1-84615-971-8
Nicholas Brooks
Pages: 41-62
The core of this article is a commentary upon four pre-Conquest documents, which are printed in part or in full in the Appendix, pp. 60–62. The first (1) is the only surviving Anglo-Saxon archiepiscopal will, that of Archbishop Ælfric (995–1005),which was preserved at Abingdon; the other documents all come from the archive of Canterbury cathedral. Two of these (2 and 3) are from the pontificate of Archbishop Æthelnoth (1020–38), who was remembered at Canterbury particularly because he was the first archbishop to be elected from within the Christ Church community since the election of Archbishop wulfred in...

William The Conqueror And The Rule Of The Normans : Frank Merry Stenton

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