A very interesting document is available on the internet, called “Manorial Lordships and Statutory Declaration. A Cautionary Description“. On the first page it reads:
The principal interest lies in the paradox he explains – that the much used Statutory Declaration proves not that a vendor owns a manorial lordship, but rather that he probably does not.
Numerous manorial lords rely on a statutory declaration for proving that their manorial title is genuine. Does this mean that most of them actually cannot prove the ownership of the manorial title?
In the feudal system all legal and economic power belonged to the lord of the manor or king, who was supported economically from his land and from labour, goods, or coin from tenants under his authority.
Feudal land tenure is the system by which land was held by tenants from their lords. Tenures were divided into free and unfree. Of the free tenures, the first was tenure in chivalry. The second form of free tenure was the spiritual tenure of bishops or monasteries. Their sole obligation was to pray for the souls of the granter and his heirs. In contrast to the free tenants, who’s services were always predetermined, the unfree tenure they were not. The unfree tenant never knew what he might be called to do for his lord. This uncertainty was later limited in a way that the tenant could not be ejected in breach of existing customs of the manor. The land was thus held according to the custom of the manor (written evidence from Dr Paul Stafford, Submission to the Justice Select Committee Inquiry into Manorial Rights). Court Rolls of the manor came to record the title of the tenants of the manor to their properties and the tenants were given a copy of the entry recording their title. A tenant who held land in this way was known as a copyholder (House of Commons Justice Committee, 2015).
The fundamental characteristic of the manorial system was economic. The peasants held land from the lord (French: seigneur) of an estate in return for fixed dues in kind, money, and services. An interesting question is that of the origin of the manorial organization; Roman or German origin. This question cannot be answered decisively because there is not sufficient evidence. Romanists state that during the decline of the Roman Empire, independent estates emerged. Germanists point to the likenesses of the manor to what can be seen as the ancient German system of landholding. It is now generally accepted that both German and Roman influences contributed to the development of the manorial system.
Manors were also judicial and administrative units with their own manorial courts, where lords were responsible for jurisprudence. Historically, landowners with significant holdings often retained ownership of any mines or minerals on the land even when it was sold on. In such cases they would own the land beneath the surface (known as ‘mines and minerals’) while another owner exercised the rights of the surface land. Landowners may also have specific rights relating to the surface of the land, for example, the rights to hunt, shoot or fish (written evidence from Christopher Jessel, author of “The Law of the Manor”, Submission to the Justice Select Committee Inquiry into Manorial Rights).
The manorial system was slowly replaced by money-based economies and other agricultural agreements. During the Tudor period many of the civil functions of the manor were removed. It led to a decline of the manorial system. Feudal tenures were formally abolished in 1660. In England, this led to the establishment of absolute property rights for big landowners, and to vociferous demands by Levellers (a political movement during the English Civil War; 1642–1651) and other radicals that copyholders — the majority of the peasantry — should receive equal security for their tenure.
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 then the holder was personally free and paid rent in lieu of services. The Manorial Documents Register was established in 1926 to record the location of documents and ensure that they could be traced if they were required for legal purposes. Some manorial courts continued to meet in the 20th century and technically courts can still meet, although they would have no real business to transact. Before the Land Registration Act 2002 it was possible for manors to be registered with HM Land Registry. Manorial incidents (the rights that a lord of the manor may exercise over other people’s land) lapsed on 12 October 2013 if they were not registered by then with HM Land Registry. Distinctive feudal remnants remain in the Isle of Man and in the Channel Islands (three distinct systems for Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney). The island of Sark was a remaining example of a feudal fief. Sark gave up being a feudal fife several years ago under EU pressure. Male primogeniture never applied to manorial or seignuer titles, as Sark has had a female Seignuer in its past. (see: Christine Alice Corcos, From Agnatic Succession to Absolute Primogeniture: The Shift to Equal Rights of Succession to Thrones and Titles in the Modern European Constitutional Monarchy, 2012 Mich. St. L. Rev. 1587, 2014).
Characteristics of Manorial Rights
Manorial rights are part of English property law (the law of acquisition, sharing and protection of valuable assets in England and Wales). As such they can be bought and sold as objects. Manorial Lordships can thus be transferred, conveyed or sold to other people. The lordship of the manor is simply the title by which the lord of the manor is known. In many cases the title may no longer have any land or rights attached to it. Because of its origin and lack of physical substance, it is known as an ‘incorporeal hereditament’. Incorporeal hereditament means ‘an interest having no physical existence’ (see: Walker vs Burton 2012, sub 47; UK Government, Practice guide 22, manors).
The Land Registry describes manorial rights as rights which were retained by lords of the manor when land became freehold. They can include rights to mines and some minerals, sporting rights such as hunting, shooting and fishing, and rights to hold fairs and markets. Manorial rights are “overriding rights” which may affect a property even if they had not previously been protected in the register maintained by the Land Registry.
Following the enactment of the 2002 Land Registration Act, which required manorial rights to be registered before 13 October 2013 if they were to be retained, more than 90,000 applications to enter a notice claiming manorial rights on properties in England and Wales had been made to the Land Registry prior to the deadline.
Lord of the Manor
Whoever owns the lordship of the manor is entitled to refer to themselves as lord of that manor, for example, Lord of the manor of Keswick (source: UK Government, Practice guide 22, manors). The right to use the term “Lord of the Manor of Keswick” should, in my opinion, be seen as a legal custom right (to seek recognition that one is the owner of a specific manorial right) as it meets certain basic requirements in this respect (see e.g.: customary Law in Modern England, W. Jethro Brown, Columbia Law Review Vol. 5, No. 8 (Dec., 1905), pp. 571). The term can be seen as a synonym for ownership with a historical background. The term should not be seen as a titular dignity, but rather as a factual appellation, which – within the feudal social system – was used to describe the relationship between the Lord of the Manor in relation to his own tenants.
The vast majority of lordships belong to an individual or a trustee. A lordship might be held in a limited company, or a ‘corporation sole,’ such as the Lord Mayor and Corporation of the City of London, who are Lords of the King’s Manor, Southwark (source: Manorial Society of Great Britain, Advice on buying a manorial title).
Manorial lord and nobility
It is generally assumed that manorial titles are not titles of nobility. I tend to a more balanced view. In his book, The Constitutional History of England (Cambridge University Press, 1909 [1st Pub. 1908]), Professor F.W. Mailland notes:
Dark as is the early history of the manor, we can see that before the Conquest England is covered by what in all substantial points are manors, though the term manor is brought hither by the Normans. Furthermore, in the interests of peace and justice, the state insists that every landless man shall have a lord, who will produce him in court in case he be accused. Slowly the relation of man and lord extends itself, and everywhere it is connected with land. The king’s thanes then are coming to be the king’s military tenants in chief.
This description characterizes nobility. Shortly after the battle of Hastings in 1066, the invading Normans and their descendants replaced the Anglo-Saxons as the ruling class of England. William the Conqueror divided the land into manors which he gave to his Norman barons. The nobility of England were part of a single Norman culture and many had lands on both sides of the channel. Early Norman kings of England, as Dukes of Normandy, owed homage to the King of France for their land on the continent. The Norman barons were summoned by the king from time to time to a Royal Council where they would advise him. By the mid 13th century, these meetings would form the basis for the House of Lords (professor Marjorie Chibnall, The Normans).
Originally, only a noble could hold a manor (professor Marjorie Chibnall, The Normans). Later, commoners could also own a manor. The current manorial lords may well be seen as a relic of the ancient Norman noble class.
It is essential to buy a manorial lordship from the legal owner. With Lordships, title is generally traced back 50 years or more (source: Manorial Society of Great Britain, Advice on buying a manorial title). Proof of ownership is sometimes found in family or estate documents like assents, probates, wills, mortgages and settlements. Statutory declarations (a written statement of fact that is signed in the presence of a solicitor) are another common way to prove legal ownership. In my opinion it is not correct to say that when a statutory declaration is used in combination with persuasive exhibits from secondary sources, the use of such a statutory declaration is rebutting evidence of the legal ownership of the manorial lordship. When ownership is disputed however, the presence of all deeds, correctly made up since 1189 is required. The absence of correct and complete sets of deeds requires Court approval to confirm ownership (Burton v Walker).
I therefore recommend to obtain a manorial title from a reputable company and consult a lawyer in advance.
- Property Law Journal: 24 January 2011. Paul Stafford explains why those who hold a manorial title, or those who challenge it, must examine the foundations on which the particular title stands.
- P. G. Vinogradoff, Villainage in England (1892, repr. 1968) and The Growth of the Manor (3d ed. 1920, repr. 1968)
- N. S. B. Gras and E. C. Gras, The Economic and Social History of an English Village (1930, repr. 1969)
- H. S. Bennett, Life on the English Manor (1937, repr. 1960)
- M. Bloch, French Rural History (tr. 1966)
- J. W. Thompson, Economic and Social History of the Middle Ages (2 vol., new ed. 1959) and Economic and Social History of Europe in the Later Middle Ages (new ed. 1960).
- The Manorial Society of Great Britain
- Richard Bridgeman, 7th Earl of Bradford
- Manorial documents and lordships and how to use the Manorial Documents Register
- The Register of Feudal Lords and Barons of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
- A spectacular example of a dispute over manorial rights comes from the recent and widely reported case of Burton v Walker. There are four decisions in Burton v Walker: the preliminary issue and substantive hearings before Adjudicators to the Land Registry; an appeal to the Chancery Division and a second appeal to the Court of Appeal. The references are REF 2007/1124 (Mr Edward Cousins, 14 May 2009); REF 2007/1124 (Mr Simon Brilliant, 10 Dec 2010);  EWHC 978 (Ch),  All ER (D) 131 (Mr Jeremy Cousins QC); and EWCA  Civ 1228 (Mummery LJ giving the only substantive judgement).
- Baxendale v Instow Parish Council (1982) Ch 14
- Crown Estate Commissioners v Roberts (2008) EWHC 1302. The defendant claimed ownership as Lord Marcher of St Davids of historical rights in foreshores in Pembrokeshire. The claimants sought removal of his cautions against first registration.
- Delacherois v Delacherois (1864) 11 HLC 62
- Corpus Christi College Oxford -v- Gloucestershire County Council CA ( QB 360)
- Doe d Clayton Bart. v Williams (1843) 11 M&W 803
- Re Holliday (1922) 2 Ch 698
- Merttens v Hill (1901) 1 Ch 842
- Morris v Smith and Paget (1585) Cro. Eliz. 38
- Rooke v Lord Kensington (1856) 2 K & J 753
- Simpson v Attorney General (1904) AC 476