If you were a serf working the land on a Manor in England in 1400s, where would you live? Would you and your family live separately from other serfs (on your plot of land) or would your house be next to other serfs? Could you leave and go to the city (London) or would there be penalties?

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    You might also look at How were peasant houses constructed in medieval England?
    – justCal
    May 12 '17 at 1:30
  • Could you edit your answer to clarify that the relationship between manor and village was very much more complicated? Lots of people have the idea that there was "a manor" which each village was a part of - a sort of hierarchical relationship. While it's not a main part of your answer, you give the impression at the start and it is likely to confuse others. Eg leicestershirehistory.co.uk/?page_id=330 gives a survey in which only 28 out of 134 villages had just the one manor. There were quite a few either with two or owing services to two or more. Mar 30 '19 at 8:35

Most people who worked the land in medieval England lived in village communities. These medieval villages were associated with a particular Manor, and a manor could occasionally have more than one village in it. A number of these villages have been excavated, and we have particularly good evidence from a number of deserted medieval villages where the sites have not been damaged by later development.

In fact, as a result of the knowledge accumulated from years of archaeological excavations, we can now not only say something about the development of the homes in these villages, but even about the furnishings that they contained.

In 15th Century England (as with most of the medieval period), most people who worked the land were serfs of some degree (i.e villeins, smallholders, or cottagers), but as a result of depopulation in the 14th century (largely as a result of the Black Death) land was beginning to be worked by free men (due to the shortages of workers, people were able to demand greater rights to the land they worked).

People of all these groups seem to have lived together in the villages, and the evidence (for example from Wythemail in Northamptonshire) increasingly suggests that they lived in relatively spacious, well-built, multi-roomed houses.

Whether you could leave the land and head to the city depended on your status. villeins were tied to the land, and could not leave. However, the status of "villein" was changing through the course of the 15th century, and by about 1500 it had effectively died out in England. Smallholders and cottagers had greater freedom of movement.

  • "villeins were tied to the land, and could not leave" -- I think this part could be productively expanded. I am aware that villeins were bound to the land and weren't allowed to leave it indefinitely, but on the other hand, I doubt they were literally jailed to their fields. It would be interesting to know where in between those extremities reality would have lied -- could a villein have gone to market in nearby towns, or on a longer but not indefinite trip for reasonable purposes?
    – Dolda2000
    May 12 '17 at 23:20
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    @Dolda2000 "tied to the land" simply means that the villeins could not move without the lord of the manor's permission. The Wikipedia article linked in the answer has more details of villeinage. May 13 '17 at 0:23
  • Yes, I'm aware they couldn't move (as I tried to indicate in my comment). I'm just curious what the extent of their freedom would have been.
    – Dolda2000
    May 13 '17 at 0:24
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    @TheMathemagician I agree the paper isn't great (although, to be fair, it was written in 1891!). However, it did cite the 1280 eviction of villeins by the Abbot of Burton (p419), which was the example I was thinking of, and so served to illustrate my point. Sadly, more recent papers all seem to be behind paywalls. May 4 '18 at 12:25
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    @TheHonRose Yes. The post-holes for the supports should be found (I think this may actually have been mentioned by the team that made Tales From the Green Valley, when Peter Ginn & Alex Langlands built a hovel for use as a wood-store. Although that was based on evidence from the Stuart period, the basic structure had remained unchanged for centuries). We have entire abandoned villages from across the country, with dates from the Bronze Age to the late-Medieval, so the evidence is fairly compelling. Mar 30 '19 at 18:29

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