Manor of Skighaugh
Nulle terre sans seigneur

Historical Overview of Feudalism


Feudalism in England was established by William the Conqueror and the Normans following the defeat of the English Anglo Saxons at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The system and structure of feudalism had been well established in Europe for some time and the Normans imposed feudalism in England.

Feudalism was based on the exchange of land for military service. King William the Conqueror used the concept of feudalism to reward his Norman supporters for their help in the conquest of England. Life lived under the Medieval Feudal System, or Feudalism, demanded that everyone owed allegiance to the King and their immediate superior.the concept of feudalism to reward his Norman supporters for their help in the conquest of England.

Feudalism was based on the exchange of land for military service. William the Conqueror claimed all the land in England and divide the land between himself (about 20% ), the church (about 25%) and the remainder of English land was given to Norman soldiers and nobles (barons).


Manorialism represented the economic portion of feudalism where all aspects of life were centered on the lord’s manor including the village, church, farm land and mill. Manorialism involved a hierarchy of reciprocal obligations that exchanged labor or rents for access to land. Manorialism also encompassed the political relations between the Lord of the Manor and his peasants. This allowed the Lord of the Manor governmental power which included the maintenance of a court. Manorialism is sometimes referred to as the seignorial system, or Seigneurialism. owed allegiance to the King and their immediate superior.

Lord of the Manor

The seizure of English land and estates was ruthless and only two Englishmen, who had turned traitor, were left with their own land. The estates of land given to the Normans, a fief, became known as Manors. The lord of the manor owed allegiance to the King and his immediate superior. Everyone was expected to pay for the land by providing the following services:

  • Work days - completing any chores required
  • Providing trained soldiers to fight for the King and clothes and weapons for the soldiers

The lord of the manor can be described as a Vassal or Liege. The 'Lord of the Manor' was a free man who held land ( a fief ) from a lord to whom he paid homage and swore fealty. A vassal could be a lord of the manor but was also directly subservient to a Noble or the King.

Current State of Feudal Titles

Lord of the Manor

The Lordship of a Manor is recognised today in England and Wales as a form of property and one of three elements of a manor that may exist separately or be combined and may be held in moieties. A title, similar to Lord of the Manor, in French would be Seigneur du ManoirGutsherr in German, godsherre in Norwegian and Swedish,ambachtsheer in Dutch and signore or vassallo in Italian. In Italy, particularly in the Kingdom of Sicily until 1812, the feudal title signore was used; like the English title, it came into wide use in Norman times, from the French seigneur.

There are three elements to a Manor (collectively called an Honour):

  • the Lordship or Dignity - this is the title granted by the manor,
  •  the Manorial - this is the manor and its land,
  •  the Seignory - these are the rights granted to the holder of the Manor.

These three elements may exist separately or be combined, the first element being the title may be held in moieties and may not be subdivided, this is prohibited by the Statute of Quia Emptores preventing subinfeudation whereas the second and third elements can be subdivided.

A manorial lordship or ladyship is not connected to the British honours system, but rather the feudal system. Ownership of a manorial lordship will be noted on request in British passports through an official observation worded, 'THE HOLDER IS THE LORD OF THE MANOR OF ................', although a Manorial title (i.e. Lord of the Manor) is not a title of nobility, and as stated in the journal Justice of the Peace Local Government Law the courts are yet to determine whether it is a title of honour or a dignity. Like their English counterparts, by 1600 manorial titles in the formerly Norman territories in France and Italy did not ennoble their holders in the same way as, for example, a barony.

Proper use of a Lord of the Manor Title

The proper form of address for a manorial lord is "<First name> <Last name>, Lord of the Manor of <Manor Name>". Thus if John Smith is the lord of the manor of Woodhall he would be addressed as Mr. John Smith, Lord of the Manor of Woodhall. It is generally accepted to shorten it to Mr. John Smith, Lord of Woodhall. An important point is to always include the "of", Lord Woodhall would imply a peerage title. Likewise it is always improper to use any form of Lord John Smith, even one which includes mention of the manor as a territorial designation such as Lord John Smith of Woodhall. Only a peerage title or a courtesy title based on a peerage title allows use of the prenominal title of “Lord”. 

Scottish Feudal Baron

A Scottish Feudal Baron is generally regarded the only fully valid and recognized feudal title which conveys the dignity of nobility. Much like English and Welsh Manorial Lordships, Scottish Baronies are now incorporeal hereditaments separate from the original feudal lands. Possession of a recognized feudal barony places one in the purview of the Lord Lyon allowing him to grant arms regardless of the owner’s nationality. Such a grant will include an appropriate helmet of rank and explicit mention of the dignity of Baron along with a territorial designation. Legitimate Scottish Feudal Baronies are fairly rare and quite expensive, often costing at least $60,000.

English and Welsh Feudal Baron

The feudal baron was the original form of nobility established by William the Conqueror in 1066 when he granted his favored followers large fiefs as tenants-in-chief to be held per baroniam.

The current view of most experts is that the Tenures Abolition Act of 1660 abolished all feudal baronies that weren’t converted to baronies by writ, which is converted to the hereditary peerage. There are some dissenting opinions that such baronies survived, but were instead demoted to mere manorial lordships. There was however a legal opinion in 1996 by A W & C Barsby, Barristers of Grey’s Inn, which asserted the continued legal survival of feudal baronies. I would advise great caution when considering an English or Welsh feudal barony.