Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wolverton Manorial Documents

In March i thought I would go back further in time and explore the history of Wolverton Manor. There is a chest of old documents from Medieval times that were acquired by Dr John Radcliffe in 1713 and in turn by the Radcliffe Trust. These documents, mostly relating to sales, purchases and bequests of land, are now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
I had thought to use these documents to construct some sort of narrative about the history of the Manor - and I still may accomplish this - but there are so many gaps in years and so many characters whose names appear in the documents from nowhere and then disappear without trace, that I have had to cast my research net much wider. As is always the case, local history takes its place in a much larger context.
What is interesting at first glance is the number of local landowners who witness the documents. It was obviously important in Medieval times to ensure the highest visibility for any land transaction; the documents only having the force of law if they could be witnessed by important people. I suspect that these transactions (many are not dated) were all affirmed at periodic meetings of the Hundred Court where all district transactions and disputes could be settled.
Here is an example, probably from the first half of the 13th century.

William son of Hamon grants and confirms to Robert son of Hugh Cocus of Wulverinton, and after his to Matilda, & Emma, one 1/2 virgate of land which Hugh, father of Robert held, with a messuage which Hugh held at the same time.
Rent, 18 pence p.a. paid in 2 installments at Lady Day and Michelmas.
Saving foreign service to the king.
If Matilda or Emma should die without lawful heirs the 1/2 virgate is to revert to William.

Richard, son of Richard: Peter Barre: Geoffrey de Lucton: Hugh de Stratford: Walter de Olney: William Vis de Lou: Richard son of John: John Parmeyn and Hamo, brothers: Hugh de Lucton: Geoffrey Coenterral: Thomas son of Simon: William Seriaunt: Nicholas, son of Stephen: Henry, son of Humphrey: Thomas Clerk and others.

At first glance this does not tell us much, and it certainly poses a lot of questions that are probably unanswerable, but there are things we can glean from this.
A virgate, by the way, was reckoned to be approximately 30 acres, so here we are dealing with 15 acres. The messuage refers to the house, yard and outbuildings.
William, son of Hamon, was the Lord of the Manor of Wolverton and the great grandson of Maigno, the Breton adventurer who was given this estate and others by King William. The Vis de Lou family started in England with Humphrey Vis de Loup who was given holdings in Berkshire. Over the next generations they expanded their holdings into Northamptonshire and bedfordshire. I think this William Vis de Lou may have had land in Stoke Goldington. Peter Barre was a member of the Stanton family. (hence the name Stantonbury - Stanton Barre) Geoffrey and Hugh de Lucton are from the neighbouring manor of Loughton. I haven't been able to find anything as yet about the Seriaunt and Coenterral families. They are not among the landholders in the Domesday Book, but the French names would suggest that they descended from Norman families.
You can see here the emergence of surnames. For the most part it was enough to name Richard, son of Richard, Nicholas, son of Stephen and Henry, son of Humphrey; those who mattered in the small society would know exactly who was who. However, Hugh Cook (Cocus) has a surname from his trade, as does the writer of the document, Thomas Clerk.
During the 12th and 13th centuries the population grew significantly. Global warming during this Medieval period resulted in better crops and a greater range of produce, including grapes. The population rose from about between 1 and 2 million at the time of Domesday (1086) to about 5 million at the beginning of the 14th Century. The plague years in the middle of that benighted century cut the population by 30 to 40% in the space of a few years and it took about 400 years before the population again rose to 5 million. However, the increase in population and social mobility led to growth in the customary use of surnames and by 1345 they were more-or-less universal in southern England.

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