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- John Keble's Parishes - 7/32 -

were revised, this seems to be the fittest place for giving Mr. Marsh's summary of them.

"The quantity of land in cultivation within the Manor of Merdon or parish of Hursley is, as I imagine, not less than three-fifths of the whole, or about 6000 acres; of which the greater part was anciently copyhold, under the Bishop and Church of Winchester. The tenure by which it was held, was, and indeed is still, that denominated Borough English, the most singular custom of which is, that the YOUNGEST son inherits the copyhold of his father, in preference of all his elder brothers. The origin of this tenure, according to Sir William Blackstone, is very remote, it being his opinion that it was 'a remnant of Saxon liberty'; {53} and was so named in contradistinction to the Norman customs, afterwards introduced by the Conqueror, from the Duchy of Normandy. The reasons commonly assigned for the peculiar usage just mentioned are given by Blackstone, but they are evidently not satisfactory to him, and, as it should seem, not founded on truth. His own way of accounting for it is far more rational and probable, though, it must be confessed, it is only conjectural. He supposes that the ancient inhabitants of this island were for the most part herdsmen and shepherds; that their elder sons, as soon as they arrived at manhood, received from their father a certain allotment of cattle, and removed from him, and that the youngest son, who continued to the last with him, became naturally the heir of the family and of the remaining property. Whether this were really the case or not will probably ever remain a question of great uncertainty; and it is a circumstance of too trifling a nature to deserve much investigation. It is, however, worthy of remark that to this day this custom of descent to the youngest son prevails among the Tartars; and that something very like it was anciently the usage among most northern nations. {54} But whatever be its origin, or in whatever way it be accounted for, such is the custom now existing in this manor; and I have had frequent opportunities of observing that it is held, especially by the inferior class of copyholders, as sacred, and that they would, on no consideration, divert their tenements out of the customary order of inheritance.

"But besides this custom, there are others also in this manor which indicate great antiquity, and which, there can be but little if any doubt, are the same as were in use before the Norman Conquest. We are told, indeed, by Judge Blackstone, that after that event the ancient Saxon system of tenure was laid aside, and that the Normans, wherever they had lands granted to them, introduced the feodal system; and that at length it was adopted generally, and as constitutional, throughout the kingdom. There does not, however, I think, appear to be sufficient reason for supposing that this new system was received into this manor, the customs here in use being evidently those of a more remote age, and in their CIRCUMSTANCES, if not in their NATURE, altogether unlike those which were at this time established by the Normans.

"Under the feodal system, the tenant originally held his lands entirely at the will of the lord, and at his death they reverted to the lord again. The services to be performed for the lord were uncertain and unlimited. The copyhold was also subject to a variety of grievous taxes, which the lord had the privilege, upon many occasions, of imposing--such as aids, reliefs, primer seisin, wardship, escheats for felony and want of heirs, and many more, altogether so exorbitant and oppressive as often totally to ruin the tenant and rob him of almost all interest in his property. {56} The difference of the circumstances under which the lands in the manor of Merdon are, and, as it seems, always were held, is remarkably striking: here the copyhold is hereditary, the services are certain and limited, the fines are fixed and unchangeable, the lord has no right of wardship, neither is the copyhold liable to escheat for felony; the widow of a tenant has also a right of inheritance, and the tenement may be let without the lord's consent for a year. All which circumstances appear to bespeak an original and fundamental difference of tenure from that of the feodal system, and are, I presume, to be considered, not as encroachments that have gradually grown upon that system, but as being of a more liberal extraction and much greater antiquity. {57a} But besides these differences, the supposition here advanced has this farther ground to rest upon, viz. that neither the name of MERDON, nor that of HURSLEY, is so much as mentioned in the great survey of the kingdom, called Domesday-Book, which, if the intention of that survey be rightly understood, {57b} it seems next to a certainty that one or other of them would have been had the new system been here adopted. Nor, when it is considered that this was CHURCH property, and that in many instances the alterations were not enforced, {58} out of favour as it is supposed to the landholder, who was partial to the more ancient tenure, ought it to be thought extraordinary that the customs in this manor did not undergo the general change; since, if favour were desirable and shown to any, who were so likely to expect and to find it as the clergy? But however this point may really be, it appears evident that the tenants of this manor have, from the earliest times to which we have the means of resorting for information, enjoyed many unusual rights and immunities, and that their services were, in many respects, far from being so base and servile as those of the strictly feodal tenant.

"When it was that disputes first arose between the lord and tenants concerning their respective rights is not, I believe, known with certainty; but it appears that in the time of Mr. Maijor many of the lord's claims were complained of by the tenants as usurpations; as, on the other hand, many of theirs were by the lord as new and uncustomary. But it was in vain then for the tenants either to resist the lord's pretensions or to assert their own; such being Mr. Maijor's power and interest with the Cromwellian Government as to enable him, as they well knew, easily to defeat all their efforts. In justice, however, to Mr. Maijor, it should be mentioned that he acted, in one instance at least, with great liberality towards the tenants; as by him it was that the customary personal services were commuted for pecuniary payments--an exchange which could not fail of being peculiarly acceptable to them, as they were not only relieved by it from a service they considered as a grievance, and performed reluctantly, but had the prospect of being in the end great gainers by it. But though by this concession on the part of the lord some ground of discontent was removed, yet disputes and animosities still continued to subsist with respect to other customs; and no sooner was Mr. Maijor dead, and the Cromwell family dispossessed of its power, than the tenants laid aside their fears and renewed their opposition. The circumstances of the times being now in their favour, it might perhaps have been expected that they, in their turn, should establish all their claims without contention. The case, however, was quite otherwise, as neither Mrs. Cromwell nor her son would tamely forego any one of their supposed privileges--on the contrary, Oliver defended them in the true spirit of a Cromwell, and relinquished none but such as the decisions of a jury, which were more than once resorted to, deprived him of. In this state of strife and litigation things continued until the year 1692, when most of the principal tenants concurred in a determination to appeal to the Court of Chancery. A bill of complaint was accordingly presented to the Court, stating their supposed grievances, and soliciting its interference. Several hearings and trials, ordered in consequence of this application, for the investigation of the disputed customs, then ensued; after which, though not till more than six years had elapsed, the Court finally adjudged and decreed the customs of the manor to be, and continue for the future, as they here follow:-

"Custom 1. That all the copyholds and customary messuages, lands, and tenements within the said manor are, and have been time out of mind, copyholds of inheritance, demised and demisable to the copyholders or customary tenants thereof, and their heirs in fee simple by copy of Court Roll, according to the custom of the said manor.

"Custom 2. That the customary tenements within the said manor do descend, and ought to descend, as tenements of the tenure, and in the nature of Borough-English, not only to the youngest son or youngest daughter, and for default of such issue of such customary tenant to the youngest brother or youngest sister, but also, for default of such brother and sister of such customary tenant, to the next kinsman or kinswoman of the whole blood of the customary tenant in possession, how far so ever remote.

"Custom 3. That if any tenant of any copyhold die, seized of any copyhold, his wife living, then she ought to come to the next Court or Law-day to make her claim and election, whether she will pay a penny and hold for her widow's estate, or pay half her husband's fine, and to keep the copyhold tenement during her life.

"Custom 4. That the husband of any wife (as customary tenant of the said manor) dying, seized of any customary tenement within the said manor, is entitled to have such customary tenement of his wife so dying, during his life, though the said husband had no issue of the body of his said wife.

"Custom 5. That if any copyholder or customary tenant of the said manor die, and leave his heir within the age of fourteen years, that then the nearest of kin and farthest from the land, have had, and ought to have the guardianship and custody of the body of such heir and his copyholds, held of that manor, so that at the next Court or Law-day he come in and challengeth the same, and to keep the same until the heir come to be of the age of fourteen years.

"Custom 6. That the heir of any customary tenant within the said manor is compellable to pay his fine to the lord of the said manor, and be admitted tenant before he attain his age of one and twenty years, if he come to the possession of his customary estate.

"Custom 7. That the fine due to the lord of the said manor upon the admission or alienation of any customary tenant, to any customary tenement within the said manor, is, and time out of mind was, double the quit-rent of the said customary tenement; that is to say, when the quit-rent of any customary tenement was twenty shillings, the tenant of such tenement did pay to the lord of the said manor forty shillings for a fine.

"Custom 8. That every heir and tenant of any customary lands of the said manor may sell his inheritance during the life of the widow of his ancestor, who enjoys such customary estate for life.

"Custom 9. That it is lawful for any of the copyholders or customary tenants of the said manor, to let her, his, or their copyholds for one year, but not for any longer term, without a licence from the lord of the said manor.

"Custom 10. 'That no CERTAIN fine is payable to the lord of the said manor from any customary tenant of the said manor for a licence to let his customary tenement; but such fine may exceed a penny in the pound of the yearly value of such customary tenement.

"Custom 11. That every copyholder of inheritance of the said manor may sell any of his coppices, under-woods, and rows, and use them at pleasure; and may dig for stone, coal, earth, marle, chalk, sand and gravel in their own grounds, to be employed thereon; and may also dig any of the commons or wastes belonging to the said manor for earth or gravel in the ancient pits there, where their predecessors have done,

John Keble's Parishes - 7/32

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