Peasant society in a Midlands manor: Great Horwood, 1400-1600


This thesis investigates peasant society during the transition from the medieval to the modern period, through a detailed study of a south Midlands village, Great Horwood in north Buckinghamshire, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (with frequent reference to conditions in the fourteenth and late thirteenth centuries). The focus is on the internal stratification of the peasantry, particularly the distribution of land.
The main source used is the court rolls of the manor of Great Horwood, and the primary aim is to determine how accurate a picture of a community and its land distribution pattern can be obtained from manorial records. The two principal methods employed to extract information from the court rolls are: first, the creation from the tenancy-related entries in the court rolls of ownership histories for every landholding unit in the manor between 1400 and 1600, and the derivation from them of comprehensive land distribution data, and second, the creation of life histories for every person mentioned in the rolls, comprising all references to that person in the rolls and other sources, and the derivation from them of data relating to residence outside the manor, landholding in more than one manor, subtenancy, landlessness and occupational structure.
It is demonstrated that it is possible to extract quantitative landholding and tenancy data from manor court rolls at least as good as that found in a series of manorial surveys or rentals, and that court roll data can be taken further, to investigate aspects of peasant landholding and society not normally revealed by those sources. It is shown that in Great Horwood widespread inter-manorial landholding and subtenancy combined with a substantial landless element within the manor’s population produced a very different and more complex social structure than that disclosed by the pattern of land distribution among the manor’s direct tenants.





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Tompkins, Matthew, “Peasant society in a Midlands manor: Great Horwood, 1400-1600,” Centre for Regional and Local History Theses and Papers, accessed February 4, 2023,