Lords’ Reactions to Demands for Freedom

  • R. H. Hilton
Part of the Studies in Economic History book series


IN the long run the lords may have accepted the erosion of servile villeinage. Their immediate reaction to villein claims to what they alleged was a recently lost freedom was usually unambiguous. By the fourteenth century the doctrine of servile villeinage was in general well enough established for villeinage cases in the courts to be arguments on technicalities. In so far as the characteristics of villeinage now appear, those which are mentioned tend to be personal rather than tenurial — merchet and tallage at will usually being emphasised. The legal doctrine was supported by classical as well as medieval social theory which emphasised the natural and divine sanctions for the subordination of serf to lord. The canon of Leicester was echoing the old doctrine when he said of the leader of a group of villeins who asserted their freedom:

Quid faciet servus nisi serviet et puer eius? Purus servus erit et libertate carebit.


Labour Service Thirteenth Century Fourteenth Century Legal Doctrine Jury Service 
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Copyright information

© The Economic History Society 1969

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. H. Hilton
    • 1
  1. 1.University of BirminghamUK

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